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July 2, 2007

I Won The Lottery! Or, Maybe Not

I must be the luckiest person alive. In the past three days I found out I won 1.5 Million Euros in the UK lottery, One Million Euros in the Winx International Lottery, 1.5 Million Euros in the 2007 E-Mail Lottery, and 500,000 Pounds in an e-mail lottery held by the Coca Cola Company. Wow! What did I do to receive all these riches?

The sad truth is there are actually people who fall for these schemes. For the promise of a quick buck (or million Euros as the case may be) people will turn over their bank account numbers, wire money in the hopes of getting more back, or give other information that could lead to identity theft.

These lottery and sweepstakes schemes have gone on long before the internet, with one of the oldest being the phony sweepstakes which required an entrance fee to claim your prize, which amounted to more than the “prize” was worth. Another variation of that scheme was requiring the potential “winner” to call a certain number to find out if he or she was a winner. The phone call cost the potential “winner” a certain amount per minute with an unusually-long wait time on hold. The real winner was the scamming company which made money off the phone calls.

Today’s thieves have a wide choice of scam-delivery mechanisms, including in person, the mail, phone and internet. However, the same holds true no matter how the scam is delivered: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

How Can You Recognize the Lottery or Sweepstakes Scam?

There are certainly legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes offers. Who hasn’t bought a state or multi-state lottery ticket from their local lottery retailer? Or, who hasn’t seen one of those sweepstakes offered by a recognized company advertising in the coupon section of the Sunday newspaper? You fill out the entry form or reasonable facsimile (usually a 3″x5″ card) with your name and address and send it off.

Therein is your biggest clue as to whether you’re the victim of a scam. In a legitimate lottery or sweepstakes you have bought the ticket or entered your name and address. In a scam lottery or sweepstakes you are notified you’ve won when you haven’t even entered or bought a ticket.

In addition, it’s illegal to use the mail or telephone to play lotteries across borders, whether national or state lines. Any lottery offer involving the purchase of lottery tickets for other state or country lotteries could end up with you being charged with illegal activities.

One ploy used by foreign scammers involving lotteries or sweepstakes is offering you an “advance” on your winnings. The scam artist will send you a check for part of your “winnings.” All you have to do is wire them payment for “taxes” or other official purposes. By the time you find out their check has bounced the money you wired is in their hands. And, because it was wired it’s harder to trace.

Lottery scammers don’t always use e-mail or the phone. Sometimes they do their dirty work in person. A typical scam would go something like this: You are approached in person by someone who claims he or she just won the lottery but isn’t eligible to claim it. They offer to split the money with you if you claim the prize. Sounds good, right? Except that before you claim the prize from the lottery retailer you are required to withdraw some money from your account and give it to the ticket holder as a good-faith gesture. By the time you find out you’re holding a non-winning lottery ticket, the thief is long-gone with your good-faith money.

In order to protect yourself from these scams, it’s important to remember the following:

Lotteries

* It’s illegal to use the mail or telephone to play lotteries across borders.

* If you ever receive a phone call, letter or e-mail announcing you just won a lottery, it’s a scam.

Sweepstakes

* It’s illegal for a company to require you to pay to win or claim a sweepstakes prize.

* It’s illegal for a company to suggest that buying something will improve your chances of winning.

* Companies cannot ask for money from you for taxes they say you owe on a sweepstakes winning.

* Be cautious when entering sweepstakes from displays you see in malls – often times these are people just wanting your name and address for a future sweepstakes scam.

* Only enter sweepstakes from recognizable companies, and never pay a fee to enter.

Avoiding being the victim of a scam takes a healthy dose of skepticism. If you are ever unsure about the legitimacy of an offer made to you, you can call the National Fraud Information Center’s Hotline at 1-800-876-7060

Author:  Shari Hearn is a writer and creator of Safety Tips 411, where you’ll learn how to guard against identity theft.

One Response to “I Won The Lottery! Or, Maybe Not

    Strange – I win all the time too. I wonder why…

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