Scam Alert: Legit Lotteries Don’t Make You Pay to Collect

Christina Tetreault
Staff Attorney

Monday, June 13th, 2016

Several years ago, an 83-year old Virginia resident got a call; the caller said that she had won the lottery and needed to pay the taxes and some additional fees to collect her winnings. After she sent more than half a million dollars – her life savings – she discovered that she’d been had.

Lottery scams are common. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lists “prizes, sweepstakes and lottery” scams as #5 in their top ten list of consumer complaints. We’ve warned about prize scams before, so this refresher on lottery and sweepstakes scams from the FTC may sound familiar:

  • A caller, often claiming to be a government official, tells you that you’ve won a big prize (it could be cash, travel or something else desirable);
  • The caller’s number is often disguised to look legit (“spoofed” to resemble a real telephone number from a government agency or company);
  • The caller will tell you you’ll have to pay up right away to collect;
  • The scammer will demand immediate action, asking you to wire money or buy a prepaid card right away.

spoofingThe FBI warns: Lottery “fraudsters are as persuasive as they are sophisticated. The scammers who make the calls speak excellent English and use well-practiced scripts complete with rebuttals. They are experienced and extremely manipulative.”

We’ve heard from many folks who’ve been targeted, including Frank:

I ultimately cancelled my land line phone after one particularly persistent caller from Jamaica threatened my life when, in complete frustration, I made sarcastic comments to which he took offense…yes!, HE took offense to the fact that I didn’t really believe his assertions that I had won a lottery that I had never entered (not that the lottery existed in the first place).  This was after I had either ignored or hung-up upon his robocalls for several days prior…

Here’s how you can avoid falling victim:

  1. Don’t send money to strangers

Never wire money, or buy a prepaid card, or otherwise send cash to strangers. Wiring money is like sending cash: once it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s also true for putting money on a prepaid debit card and sharing that number with someone. Don’t do it!

  1. Don’t share your account information with anyone you haven’t vetted 

Never, ever give someone your account number (checking, debit, credit or prepaid) in response to any call – lottery “winning” or otherwise – that you did not initiate and have not verified is legit.

We can stop scammers before they get to us! We know that even savvy consumers fall victim to scams. That’s why we want everyone to have the choice to stop scammers before they get through. Join with the more than half million consumers calling on phone companies to provide free, effective tools to block robocalls.



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