Lottery scams are designed to steal your money and personal information by making you believe you have won a large amount of money. They come in a variety of forms, including emails that ask you to click on a link to claim your winnings, or letters that ask you to pay a processing fee to complete the claim. Unfortunately, they are also becoming more common. Below you can find out how to spot a lottery scam and what to do if you believe you have been the target of one.
How to Spot a Lottery Scam
The most important thing to remember is that you cannot win a prize from a lottery you have not entered. If you haven’t played the lottery and you receive a letter, phone call or email informing you that you’ve won a prize, it is almost certainly fraudulent. To safeguard yourself against such scams, look out for the following signs:
- The email or letter says your name or email address was ‘randomly selected’ to win a prize in a lottery draw. You cannot be randomly selected in a game you did not enter.
- The lottery you have supposedly won does not match up with where the message originated. For example, if an agent purporting to be in the United States informs you about a EuroMillions jackpot you have won, it is a sure sign that you are being scammed.
- You are asked to pay a fee or ‘premium’ to claim your prize. Lotteries will not ask for payment for any prize claims.
- You are told that the ‘tax’ on a win is to be paid in advance. All lottery winnings are subject to state and federal taxation and any deductions will be taken by the relevant tax authority after you have begun the claims process.
- The email has been sent from an unofficial or free webmail address, such as hotmail.com or gmail.com. Make sure to always check the actual email address that a message is sent from, not just the name that appears in the ‘From’ field.
- The email or letter is not addressed to you personally, but instead begins with ‘Dear Winner’ or something similar. Be aware that as lottery scams become more sophisticated, this may not always be the case, and you may receive a fraudulent email personally addressed to you. An email is not genuine just because it has your name on it.
- You are told that there is only limited time to claim a prize, and that the claim depends on your confidentiality. This encourages the recipient to act quickly and without seeking further advice.
- Poor spelling and grammar are giveaways that a letter or email is fraudulent. The email may also contain unnecessarily complicated language or jargon, such as reference numbers and ticket batch numbers, in an effort to look official.
- The communication may include a photocopy of the winning cheque with your name on it to further encourage you to comply.
What to Do If You Think You Have Received a Scam
If you have received a letter, email, or phone call that you believe is a scam, it is important that you do not comply with any instructions given, and instead follow the steps below:
- Delete the email straight away.
- Do not send any money, bank details or personal details to the sender, and do not call any phone numbers included in the communication.
- Do not respond to a scam email, and don’t open any attachments or files included, as they could contain malware.
- If you already provided your bank account details, notify your bank immediately.
- If you receive a phone call that you believe to be a lottery scam, just hang up the phone and block the number from calling you. Try to make a note of anything the caller said to you.
- Contact your state lottery to tell them about the scam. Include as much relevant information as possible. You can also report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a national consumer protection agency that can advise about such scams.
How Do These Scams Work?
Scams like these rely on the emotional reaction someone has on receiving news of a big lottery win. The idea of landing a huge sum of money – or losing out on it by not acting – is sometimes enough to encourage a person to respond to the scammer’s instructions without thinking. Lottery scams are becoming more sophisticated, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to identify a scam email at first glance. For this reason, if you receive a communication from any lottery – even if it is a lottery you have entered – treat it with caution.
In some cases, you might not even be aware that you have been the victim of a scam. ‘Phishing’ emails include a link or attachment that either infects your machine with malware or directs you to a site designed to steal your personal information. In both cases, you might not even know that anything is amiss, as the malware can operate in the background or even lay dormant on your machine until activated by the scammer.
A healthy dose of skepticism is the best way of combatting scams like these. Always check the email address from which an email has been sent, and be careful with any links included, as the text in the link can differ from the actual destination address. If you’re still not sure if a communication you have received is genuine, contact the relevant state lottery for advice before doing anything else. Only ever follow links or open attachments to emails that you know without any doubt are from a genuine source.
Common Types of Lottery Scams
The scams below are the most commonly used, but scammers are constantly coming up with new methods. As a rule, you should treat any unsolicited communication about lottery prizes or claims with caution.
These are some of the most widely-used lottery scams. You will receive an email informing you that you have won a large sum of money in a lottery. The email will usually be made to look like it is from an official source, usually a lottery provider, and it will require you to click on a link or open an attachment to claim the prize. This then directs you to a website designed to steal your information, or it downloads malware directly onto your computer.
Social media scams operate in a similar way to email or text message scams. A direct message is sent to you informing you of a lottery win, and it encourages you to click on a link to a malicious site. Users with generic profile pictures or usernames are a dead giveaway that the message is not real, but any message received via social media from a person that you don’t know should be treated with caution.
You receive a call or text message informing you of a lottery win. The scammer’s aim is simply to extract your personal information or bank details. They can be more coercive over the phone, and can put a lot more pressure on you to hand over personal details before you’ve checked the authenticity of the call. Phone calls often originate from numbers in Jamaica, Grenada and Antigua as they resemble U.S. telephone numbers.
Second Chance Lottery
You will receive a communication that you have won a previously-unclaimed prize in a ‘second chance’ lottery draw. Such draws do not exist, as any unclaimed prizes are distributed according to individual state lottery rules and regulations. When you enter a lottery, you are only eligible to win prizes in the draw(s) specified on your ticket.
Lottery Winner Trusts
A scammer masquerading as a charitable lottery winner will contact you to let you know that they would like to donate some money to you, claiming that they want to ‘give back’ some of their winnings to less fortunate people. The scammer will then aim to obtain your bank details under the pretense that it is to deposit the money in your account.