These scams can come by email, text, or postal service – here’s how to identify them.
It’s everybody’s fantasy to win the lottery, or a sweepstakes, or a fun prize like an iPad, and scammers know this. They use it to their advantage in various ploys designed to steal users’ money and personal information. Like romance scams, supply chain scams, and other financial scams, these traps use social engineering to prey upon vulnerable states of mind. If you’re told you’ve just won a good deal of money, some part of you wants it to be true, despite how badly your spider sense might be tingling at possible danger.
According to the FTC, there are three sure signs of a lottery scam:
- You have to pay to get your prize. Real prizes are free. A common scamming tactic is to tell the user they have to pay taxes up front for the prize, or shipping charges, or even “processing fees.” The other tell here is that the intended victim is asked to use a payment method that can’t easily be reversed, such as wiring money or paying with gift cards or cryptocurrency.
- You’re told paying increases your chance of winning. Legitimate sweepstakes are completely by chance. There is no legal way to increase your odds.
- You’re asked to provide your financial information. There is no reason at all for you to give your credit card number or bank account information in order to collect a prize.
The social engineering techniques used in these scams aim to get the user to act before thinking it through. Look out for any and all of these tricks:
- They say they’re from the government. They might use a real organization’s name like the FTC or they may make one up like “National Sweepstakes Bureau,” but either way, you should know the government will never contact you to demand money in order for you to claim a prize.
- They use names you recognize. The scammer might pretend not to be from the government, but from a well-known company. If they’re demanding money or information from you, go to the company’s official website and contact them to see if the offer is legitimate. Chances are, it’s not.
- They send a link or attachment. Hoping your excitement at winning will drive you to believe, scammers sometimes send a link to click or an attachment to download, saying it’s a form you have to fill out to claim your prize. By clicking or downloading, you could be letting malware into your system.
- You’re told you won a foreign lottery. It’s illegal for a U.S. citizen to enter a foreign lottery, so right away, you know this one is a scam.
- You’re told to act now. Any delay could cause you to come to your senses, so the scammer wants you to act immediately while the excitement is still blinding you. To pile on the pressure, they tell you it’s a limited time offer.
- They send a fake check and ask you to send some of the money back. The check can look real, and it might take your bank a week or two to recognize it as fraudulent. Meanwhile, the scammer tries to get you to send them money to cover processing costs or whatnot.
If you live in the U.S. and you believe you’ve been targeted by a lottery scam, report it to the FTC. Share this information with your friends and family so everyone can learn how to identify and stay safe from these dirty tricks.