Imagine that you had $1.5 billion at your disposal. Think of everything you’d be able to do; all the doors it would open up. (To give you an idea of just how much money this is, if you stacked $1 bills on top of each other, 1.5 billion of them would reach more than 10 miles into the sky.)
Well, Powerball has shattered records and now sits as largest jackpot in world history. And although your chances of winning are about 1 in 292 million—roughly the same odds as having your name randomly drawn from a hat containing the names of everyone in America—the fact of the matter is that eventually, someone is going to become very, very rich overnight. So, why not throw your hat into the ring too? After all, if you don’t play you can’t win, right?
While you’re daydreaming about all the things you’d do after becoming a multi-millionaire, don’t let it distract from this truth: Whether or not you win this record-breaking Powerball, crooks are taking the opportunity to scam people out of their money. And considering all the emotion behind this huge sum of money, you just might find yourself caught up in their web as well.
In this article, we’ll go over some common lottery scams and tell you exactly how to avoid them.
How to Spot Common Lottery Scams
Although you might think that lottery scams rarely occur (such as during times like these), the reality is that these types of scams were among the Top Ten of 2015. In fact, based on sheer probability, you’re much more likely to be contacted by a lottery scammer than you are to win the lottery itself. So, let’s take a look at how they generally work.
According to the Better Business Bureau article above, most lottery hoaxes begin when scammers contact you out of the blue (whether by mail, email, or phone) and let you know you’ve won a prize. The trick here is that they’ll only claim you won smaller, secondary prizes, so they don’t raise too much suspicion.
You’re much more likely to be contacted by a lottery scammer than you are to win the lottery itself.
In some cases, they might claim to be from the agency itself, while other times, they might tell you they’re a non-citizen who’s unable to claim the prize and needs your help. Sometimes, scammers will even resort to blackmail.
Whichever method they use to contact you, however much they claim you’ve won, and whatever storyline they use though, it all boils down to one thing: They want you to send them money.
Why? They’ll usually state that you need to pay some kind of a tax or a fee in order to receive your winnings, which you should do via wire transfer or prepaid debit card.
In other instances, they might send you a check to cover the “taxes,” which you’d be instructed to deposit into your bank account. Then, they’d want you to send the money somewhere, again through wire transfer or prepaid debit card. But only after you’ve sent the money would you find out that the check bounced and you’re out a lot of cash.
How can you avoid this?
5 Tips for Avoiding Lottery Scams
Tip #1: Claiming a Legit Lottery Prize Won’t Cost You Money
First, remember that even if you were to win some kind of lottery prize, in most cases, you wouldn’t be required to pay any fees to claim it.
As such, if someone requests that you send them money, separate yourself from the situation and report everything to the Federal Trade Commission.
And should you decide to temporarily give them the benefit of the doubt, don’t send them anything, especially “unusual forms of payment” like wire transfers or prepaid debit cards.
Tip #2: Never Share Your Personal or Financial Info
The lottery scammers aren’t just out for your money; they’ll be happy to take any personal or financial information you give them and use it to steal your identity. Typically, they’ll do this by requesting “copies of official documents, such as your passport” in order to confirm your identity, or even requesting bank information.
The solution? Just don’t hand over anything until you’ve confirmed that everything is legit.
Tip #3: If You Didn’t Buy a Ticket, You Can’t Play the Lottery
Despite how obvious this one might seem, learning that you won a large sum of could easily cause you to gloss over the fact that you never bought a ticket in the first place. And even if you are fully aware of this fact, the thought of so much money might cause you to put your ethics aside (remember the blackmail example we referenced previously?).
Bottom line: If you didn’t pay for a ticket, you can’t play the lottery. So if you receive correspondence from someone claiming that you won, this should immediately act as a huge warning sign.
Tip #4: Always Verify by Contacting the Organization Directly
Even if you did buy a ticket, you should always play it safe. After all, some legitimate organizations might email you if you’ve won a smaller prize.
Instead of acting on your first instinct though, take a deep breath and contact the organization directly (here’s a list of state lotto associations), but don’t call any numbers included in the letter or email. The person on the other end will probably be in on the scam, too.
Many of these scammers will claim that you’ve won a foreign lottery, which might make it that much more difficult to validate.
Tip #5: Practice Safe Habits
Finally, you can avoid many types of scams by learning to practice safe habits.
For example: Is someone calling you over the phone? They’ll probably use hard selling tactics if they get even the slightest sense of hesitation on your part. Instead, control your emotions, ask a lot of questions and never give out your personal or financial information.
Did you receive an email? It’s always good practice to never open emails from unknown senders. But if you do, don’t click on any of the links it contains, and don’t respond. Remember, if you’re on the fence, contact the agency directly (not through any numbers provided in the email) to learn more.
In addition, as we’ve discussed in many of our articles on avoiding common scams, this type of correspondence tends to come from non-native English speakers, so look out for a lot of spelling or grammatical errors, and odd word usage.
Always, investigate any facts claimed in the email or letter, since they’re often hastily put together so everything might not add up if you scratch just below the surface.
When it comes down to it, the fact of the matter is that you probably won’t win the Powerball drawing. But it sure is fun thinking about it.
Instead, you’re much more likely to be contacted by a lottery scammer who’s out to steal your money or your identity (or both). The good news is that you now have all of the key information you need to avoid lottery scams
And if you have any tips for dodging lottery scams, be sure to leave a comment below.