Sweepstake scams are scams where you are tricked into parting with money and/or your personal details by being informed that you are a winner in a competition. In order to claim your prize you need to provide personal details or pay a “release fee” upfront.
How Do Sweepstake Scams Work?
- You may get a letter or email informing you that you have won a jackpot or lottery, local or international.
- They will request that you contact a particular person, who will impersonate an official, to process your winnings.
- They then request copies of your personal information such as ID documents and banking details as proof of your identity.
- You are then requested to make a payment upfront in order to claim your prize. You will be fed numerous excuses as to why the fee cannot be taken from your winnings or why more money is needed to process the next step.
How They Harm People
The main consequence of being scammed by one of these scams is financial loss. There are also consequences of people obtaining your personal details and using them in criminal activities. Once you have been scammed you are usually added to a list of easy targets and are continuously harassed.
How Prolific Are They?
Lottery and sweepstake scams were the third most common consumer fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2017.
How To Spot Them
Here are a few practical pointers that will assist you in spotting a Sweepstake Scam.
- You are requested to pay money or buy money cards upfront in order to claim your prize.
- A big red flag is if they request copies of personal and banking details. They should only require your social security number to process your winnings (remember to also be vigilant about giving out your social security number!).
- You are requested to keep your winning a secret until it has been processed.
- They use free email accounts. Large lotteries will never use free email accounts. Email addresses are sometimes spoofed to make them appear legitimate.
- They only provide a postal address and cannot provide a street address.
- They do not have a landline and never answer the phone but only return your call.
- You do not recall ever entering the sweepstake. It’s highly unlikely you will be winning something you did not enter.
- You are pressurized to hurry or you will lose the winnings. They do not give you enough time to do any background checking.
- You cannot win a lottery across borders, it is illegal. You can only be a winner of such a lottery if you were in the said country and purchased a ticket while there.
- The email or letter is not addressed to you by name but as Dear Sir/Madam, as they do not have any of your other details.
- You receive notification via bulk mail as scammers try to cut costs. Legitimate notification will only come via a verified courier company.
- They pretend to be Government Organizations for example National Sweepstakes Board, but if you do any research, you will find that they don’t exist.
- Another big red flag is if the correspondence has glaring errors and typos.
How To Avoid Them
- Check what your odds of winning are. If you didn’t enter, it’s highly unlikely that you are a winner.
- Do not call the number they provide to verify your winnings unless you can confirm it in the phonebook. Try to obtain an alternate number for the said organization and call that number instead.
- Never disclose any of your personal information or bank details to an unverified source.
- Examine your correspondence for any missing critical details such as your proof of entry, legal disclaimers, sponsors name, and address.
- Check the legitimacy of the organization online.
- Never wire any money or provide money card numbers to claim your winnings.
- If you suspect a scam, do not respond to them in any way. Responding in any way makes you a target and therefore vulnerable.
What To Do If You Encounter A Scam
- If you received notification via bulk mail, report it to the United States Postal Service.
- If the scam was online or via email, report it to Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3).
- File a police report to absolve yourself should any of your personal details be used in an illegal activity.
- Enlist your local media, newspapers, radio, and TV stations to help you pursue the scammers and to warn others.
Scammers are fully aware of the tough economic climate we live in and are on the prowl for easy targets who will part with their hard-earned cash and personal details for any chance of a big win. Do not fall into their trap. Stay alert and be aware of reported sweepstake scams in the news.