It is NOT possible to win a competition, lottery prize, raffle or sweepstake that you have not entered. If anyone contacts you about winning a lottery that you did NOT enter, then it is almost certain that you have been contacted by a scammer. Do not reply to any letters, emails, phone calls or messages. More importantly, NEVER send money or personal information to someone who you don't know!
Lottery scams have been around almost as long as lotteries themselves, and while players are becoming wise to many of the tricks and cons, fraudsters continue to develop new and inventive methods of siphoning money from their unsuspecting victims. The information on this page will help you spot a scam.
How Lottery Scams Work
The majority of lottery scams work by convincing the victim that they have won a prize in a lottery, raffle, sweepstake or competition. While the 'winner' (actually, the victim) is experiencing the initial euphoria of winning a big prize, the scammer gets to work detailing the 'fees' that need to be paid in order to claim the prize. Very often these will be presented as 'processing fees', 'administration charges' or payments to 'cover taxes' that are due on the prize.
The sums will often be quite modest to start with and so the target of the scam may not immediately be too concerned. Eventually, the scammers will demand more and more money for a prize that never appears, and doesn't actually exist, but the victim may keep sending money because they have invested both their money and their time without realising that they are being scammed. Genuine lotteries will never ask a winner to pay a fee before they collect their prize and any taxes on lottery winnings are paid to the government, NOT the lottery itself.
How to Spot a Scam – look out for one or more of these tell tale signs.
- The letter or email is not addressed to you personally, but to 'Dear Winner' or something similarly vague.
- The email has been sent from a free webmail address (eg. @gmail.com, @hotmail.com, @outlook.com or @yahoo.com). Some scammers have even begun to use a technique called "email spoofing" in which a sender address is forged and made to look as though the message is from an official lottery. This tricks the victim into thinking that they have been contacted by a real lottery.
- Some email scams contain links to sites that closely resemble an existing official lottery site. This is another form of "spoofing" in which the victim is lured into giving the scammer money or financial and personal information. As the website appears genuine, it can be very easy for unsuspecting victims to believe that the 'lottery' and 'prizes' are genuine.
- The letter or email contains poor spelling and grammar along with unusual syntax.
- There is often a very tight deadline for claiming your prize. The scammer is playing on the emotions of the victim and promoting a sense of urgency in order to prevent the victim from realising that it is a scam or from seeking advice from friends or family who may alert the potential victim.
- Scammers often make confidentially a 'condition' for claiming the bogus prize. This is another way of ensuring that the potential victim is discouraged from seeking advice which would alert them to the scam.
- If the scam is in the form of a letter, it is often on poor quality paper with a photocopied letterhead. However, some letters will include the address and even the logo of a genuine lottery in an attempt to appear more legitimate.
- Any seemingly official images are often low resolution and of poor quality.
- Scams sent by email can look quite authentic but DO NOT reply or open any links contained in the email as there is a strong possibility this will cause a virus or 'trojan horse' application to be installed on your computer. Delete the email immediately.
Types of Scams
Lottery scams are constantly evolving so that the fraudsters can stay one step ahead of their victims. Here are some of the most common types of lottery scams.
- In a direct mail scam, the victim may receive a letter from the scammer telling them that they won a massive prize as part of a competition, lottery, sweepstake or raffle. The letter urges them to pay a fee as soon as possible in order to avoid missing out on the winnings. The preferred method of contact is usually via email as the fraudsters may have used a genuine postal address to try and persuade the victim that the letter is from a genuine organisation. This is done without the agreement of the legitimate business and is fraud.
- Email scams are very similar to direct mail scams. However, the email message may contain a link to a site that 'spoofs' an official lottery and that asks the victim to provide personal and financial information. These 'spoof' sites can often look very similar to the official website of a genuine lottery. To be on the safe side, DO NOT open any links contained in any emails which you are not expecting. If you have an online account with a legitimate organisation such as the UK's National Lottery and receive an email advising you to check your account, you may wish to log into your account via your browser rather than using any links contained in the emails.
- Some scammers telephone the intended victim and pose as lottery officials in order to inform them of their "big win". The scammer then exploits the victim's feelings of shock and excitement in order to extract a payment from them immediately. After promising to release the funds, the scammer disappears and the victim never receives their "prize".
- Scams on social media sites occur frequently. If the victim adds the scammer as a friend on a site such as Facebook, then the scammer can message them with the news that their account has been selected to win a prize. They then attempt to extract information and money from the victim.
- Mobile phone scams can leave victims susceptible to identity theft and phone hacking. The scammer sends a text message to the victim to congratulate them on winning a prize. They are banking on the victim calling them back, rather than replying by text message, because they are too stunned or shocked to type. Once the victim has made contact with the scammer, they will be asked to provide personal and financial information.
Where to Find Help
If you think that you have been a victim of a lottery scam, then you should report it immediately to your bank and your local police force. Speaking out can help prevent it from happening to others.
One of the best resources for victims of lottery scams is Action Fraud which is a service provided by the City of London Police and the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. They offer guidance and support to fraud victims and can be contacted on 0300 1223 2040.
While there are a number of 'free' lotteries around, they all require participants to register certain details – usually their name, phone number and perhaps their postcode. These lotteries do not randomly select 'winners' who have not registered.
Most of us are honest, as are the people we know, and so we can be very trusting if we are contacted out of the blue by someone who sounds sincere. Unfortunately scammers prey on the trusting nature of the vast majority of the public and exploit that trust. Although stories of pensioners losing their savings to scammers often make the news, people of all ages and demographics can fall prey to the tricks of a lottery fraudster. Simply remember these two golden rules to make sure that you don't become the scammer's next victim:
- You can't win a competition you didn't enter
- You will never be asked to pay a fee to collect a genuine prize