Unexpected prize and lottery scams work by asking you to pay some sort of fee in order to claim your prize or winnings from a competition or lottery you never entered.
How this scam works
You will receive notification that you have won a lot of money or a fantastic prize in a competition, lottery or sweepstake that you don’t remember entering. The contact may come by mail, telephone, email, text message or social media.
The prize you have ‘won’ could be anything from a tropical holiday to electronic equipment such as a laptop or a smartphone, or even money from an international lottery.
To claim your prize, you will be asked to pay a fee. Scammers will often say these fees are for insurance costs, government taxes, bank fees or courier charges. The scammers make money by continually collecting these fees from you and stalling the payment of your winnings.
Alternatively the scammer will collect a premium rate on the phone number you are asked to dial (usually starting with 190). They will try to keep you on the line for a long time in order to clock up a hefty charge, and may even ask you to call a second premium rate number.
The email, letter or text message you receive will ask you to respond quickly or risk missing out. It may also urge you to keep your winnings private or confidential, to ‘maintain security’ or stop other people from getting your prize by mistake. Scammers do this to prevent you from seeking further information or advice from independent sources.
Lottery scams may use the names of legitimate overseas lotteries (often Spanish lotteries), so that if you do some superficial research, the scam will seem real. Some examples of the real Spanish lotteries that the scammers falsely use are Loteria Primitiva and El Gordo.
You may also be asked to provide personal details to prove that you are the correct winner and to give your bank account details so the prize can be sent to you. Scammers use these details to try to misuse your identity and steal any money you have in your bank account.
Sometimes the scammers actually do send a cheque for part of your winnings, such as a few thousand dollars of winnings, to trick you into thinking the offer is legitimate. However this cheque will eventually bounce and you will not receive any real payments.
The scammer will take your payment and fail to deliver the prize, or send you something that falls short of the promised prize.
- You receive a letter, email or text message saying you have won a guaranteed prize in a lottery or competition that you did not enter.
- The sender claims they have identified you as a winner by randomly choosing your email address. They may say the offer is ‘legal’ or ‘legitimate’, and has ‘government approval’.
- To claim your prize you are asked to buy a ticket, pay a fee or call a premium rate phone number (usually starting with 190).
- You may be asked to provide your bank account details, or to send the fee to a PO box number or via a money transfer service.
- If someone asks you to pay money up-front in order to receive a prize or winnings, it’s almost always a scam. Legitimate lotteries do not require you to pay a fee to collect winnings.
- Be careful of phone numbers beginning with 190. These are charged at a premium rate (sometimes even for receiving a message) and can be very expensive.
- Read all the terms and conditions of any offer very carefully – claims of free or very cheap offers often have hidden costs.
- If you think the prize offer might be genuine, contact your local consumer protection agency – they may be able to tell you more about the offer and if it is likely to be a scam.
- Verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search. Do not use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
- Do an internet search using the names or exact wording of the letter/email to check for any references to a scam – many scams can be identified this way.
- If you think it’s a scam, don’t respond — scammers will use a personal touch to play on your emotions to get what they want.
- Never send money or give credit card, online account details, or copies of important personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust and never by email.
- Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency. It is rare to recover money sent this way.