In case you haven’t heard (and you probably already have), Wednesday’s Powerball jackpot is estimated to reach around $1.3 billion. Various news outlet put the odds of winning the possibly world-record setting prize at around 292 million to one. But there’s also a chance you could find yourself the target of a well-timed lottery scam.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, for instance, said late last week that his office has received more than two dozen complaints involving sweepstakes or prize scams, with an average reported loss of about $5,000, over the past month. To help you avoid falling victim to these types of schemes during Powerball and beyond, here are few common lottery or sweepstakes scams to watch out for.
1. The Sham Phone Call Scam
According to the Better Business Bureau, there are two main types of lottery scams. In the first incarnation, consumers get a call, email, letter or fax from someone purportedly working for a well-known organization or government agency like the Federal Trade Commission. The caller says the consumer has won a prize, but will need to wire some money to cover taxes and processing fees in order to claim their winnings. Of course, once these funds are transferred, no prize actually materializes.
2. The Fake Check Swindle
In the second scam outlined by the BBB, consumers get an unsolicited check or money order in the mail, alongside directions to wire some of its funds back to similarly cover processing fees and taxes. Once they do so, victims discover the checks were fake and are “on the hook to pay their banks back for any money they withdrew,” the BBB wrote on its website.
3. The Fabricated Foreign Lotteries Fraud
In this scam, consumers are enticed to buy chances for high-stakes lotteries in other countries via phone or mail solicitation. But, according to the FTC, these chances are bogus — either they don’t exist or the contact person keeps any winnings for themselves. Scammers may use any payment information turned over to them to run up fraudulent credit card or debit card charges. Foreign lottery programs are particularly problematic, because, according to the FTC, entering one constitutes a violation of federal law. Plus, once you purchase one bogus ticket, you can expect to be contacted again. “Your name will be placed on ‘sucker lists’ that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell,” the FTC wrote on its website.
4. The Text Message ‘Prize’ Trick
Be wary of any text messages announcing you’ve won some sort of sweepstakes. This communication may be little more than a phishing scam, designed to get you to click on a link that downloads malware on your computer or to visit a website that asks for your personal information. “You’ll also be asked to sign up for ‘trial offers’ — offers that leave you with recurring monthly charges,” the FTC wrote. “Worse, the spammer could sell your information to identity thieves.”
To avoid lottery scams in general, you should be wary of any unsolicited communication announcing you’ve won, refrain from wiring any money to collect your prize (legitimate sweepstakes don’t generally make you pay a fee, according to the FTC) and similarly avoid forking over any personal information to third parties (prize promoters may sell your data to advertisers, the FTC wrote).
If you have reason to believe you’ve already fallen victim to these or other schemes, you should report the activity to the FTC, local authorities, your Attorney General and/or, even, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (if the offer came in the mail). You should also closely monitor financial accounts for fraudulent charges and check your credit for signs your identity may have been stolen. (You can do so by pulling your credit reports for free each year on AnnualCreditReport.com and viewing your credit scores each month on Credit.com.)
More on Identity Theft:
- Identity Theft: What You Need to Know
- How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?
- What Should I Do If I’m a Victim of Identity Theft?