Lottery and sweepstakes scams rank among the most common consumer frauds. Along with calls, mailings, emails and text messages, crooks now use online pop-up windows and social media to tell you that you’ve won money or prizes. Fraudsters say you must first pay taxes, processing, delivery, legal and/or customs fees to collect your “winnings.”
A request for an upfront payment is an indication that someone is trying to defraud you. When it comes to upfront payments, criminals have some favorites. They like to use money transfers because they are virtually the same as cash. Prepaid cards and iTunes gift cards are popular because crooks can access the card balance if you give them a number from the back of the card or a PIN over the phone. They may also ask you to send cash in the mail. Once you give them money, they may keep asking for more, claiming there’s a bigger jackpot at stake, or that there was an error or problem that can be solved with more money. A refusal to pay might be met with threats of violence. Never share your sensitive, personal financial information. Using your bank account or credit card numbers, scammers can make unauthorized transactions, or they can sell your information to other scam operations. Victims are sometimes asked to deposit counterfeit checks and send money back to the scammer. Note that if you deposit a fake check and it bounces, you’re responsible for repaying the bank. Another trick includes impersonating public figures, companies, a lottery, FBI and IRS officials, and others. This is done by cloning social media profiles, creating bogus websites and pop-ups, or pretending to be real lottery winners who want to “give away” part of their winnings. Lottery and sweepstakes scams are typically run outside the United States using technology to disguise their phone number. For example, the caller ID display on a victim’s phone may say “FBI” or display a number with a Washington, D.C., area code (202). The government and law enforcement never call to notify lottery and sweepstakes winners or award prizes of any kind. Protect yourself from fraud by observing these precautions:
- Don’t wire money to an unknown party or pay with a prepaid card or gift card for a prize.
- Don’t disclose personal information to an unknown party.
- Don’t deposit a check and send money or prepaid cards back.
- Don’t click on pop-up windows offering gift cards, prizes or contest entries.
If you’re a victim, you might be able to stop or reverse funds if you act quickly.
Report the scam to:
- Your financial institution and money transfer service.
- The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center
- Local police
- Your state attorney general
- The Federal Trade Commission
- The U.S. Postal Inspection Service if you receive a foreign lottery offer in the mail (foreign lotteries are illegal) or if mail is used in a crime.