Lottery Scam

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Win the lottery? Might Want to Double-Check

One of the all-time most popular scams is the lottery or sweepstakes scam, in which a victim will be told they’ve won a cash prize in a contest they don’t remember entering. Of course, everyone wants free money – which is why the scam works.

There are three main variations, two of which are rather similar:

• The scammer will send a check or money order to the victim for a “portion of the winnings,” with the explanation that it is to cover taxes on the prize. The victim is instructed to cash the check and wire a specified amount (the “taxes”) back to the scammer, who will then send the rest of the winnings. Of course the check is counterfeit, the wire transfer is untraceable, and the rest of the “money” never arrives.

• The second (and similar) variation involves a victim receiving a letter informing them of their prize and instructing them to pay the taxes so that the winnings can be released. While virtually the same as the variation above, this one doesn’t involve any counterfeit checks.

• The third common variation involves a victim receiving a phone call from a scammer informing them that they’ve won a prize by random selection. The caller tells the victim they don’t need to do anything and the prize will be automatically mailed out. Trust is developed between the victim and the scammer, as the scammer “confirms” the victim’s information (name, home addresss, phone number). Either in the same phone call or in a follow-up call, the scammer will tell the victim that they can either wait for the check to come in the mail, or they can provide their checking account information to have it direct deposited. Naturally, mailed checks never arrive, and direct deposit is actually “direct debit.”

Remember the golden rule of lotteries and sweepstakes: no one wins a contest they didn’t enter. Also remember the silver rule: You will never have to pay to receive a legitimate prize.

Should you ever receive a letter like the ones mentioned above, don’t respond! Either shred it and throw it out or turn it over to law enforcement. If a check or money order came with it, ask your bank to check it out (but don’t deposit it). Notify law enforcement if it is indeed fake. NEVER wire money to pay the “taxes” on your winnings – not only are wire transfers virtually untraceable, meaning your money will never be recovered, but taxes are claimed when you file or taken directly out of the winnings (not paid in advance).

For phone calls like the one mentioned above, DO NOT give out any personal information, including bank account and routing info. Scammers can easily get basic information from a phone book or online, so don’t trust them just because they relay your home address to you. Also, if given the option for direct deposit, insist on the paper check in the mail – it’s worth the wait for legitimate prizes to avoid having your account drained by a scammer. If you ever actually do receive a check, make sure to have your bank check it first for legitimacy, and turn over any fakes to law enforcement. If anything shows up on your caller ID when you receive these types of phone calls, jot it down so you can provide the information to law enforcement if needed.

Remember, if you deposit a fake check or money order, it is YOU who will be held responsible for the money. If you’ve spent all your “winnings” before you find out it’s a fake (which can take up to a week or more in some cases), you’ll have to find a way to repay the bank. In addition, you may be held criminally liable for fraud.

Also beware if you ever receive a prize notification via email; legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes don’t notify winners via email. If you receive an email like this, delete it (and don’t open any attachments).

Finally, most of these types of scams come from abroad, with Canada and Jamaica being two common origins. Keep in mind that it is illegal under federal law to participate in a foreign lottery through the mail or over the phone.

Contact the Public Safety Office at (661) 723-6063 or