The Grinch Does Lottery Scams, Too

You probably didn't win that lottery the email says you won...

Along with gift cards, lottery cards are sought after holiday presents and stocking stuffers. I don’t see evidence of any new scams this season, but there is no doubt the holidays will bring out some of the established scams and scammers. Both givers and recipients need to be on guard.

The most prevalent scam seems to be a contact—by phone, email or even plain old letter—that says the recipient has won the lottery. Of course, the contact says there are some things needed before the winnings can be collected and, of course, all of them involve money. One version says a processing fee is needed before the winnings can be collected. Another says a temporary bond is required. Still another falsehood says the winner must pay taxes in advance of collecting the prize. Sometimes the scammers ask for financial account information. All are totally false—no payment is ever required to collect a lottery prize. According to the Mass Consumer Affairs Blog last year a Cape Cod woman was tricked out of over $23,000, so these scams are not small potatoes. When the scammers find someone who will send money, they find pretexts to ask for more, driving the total amount up to sizeable amounts for some of the defrauded.

Another type of scam encourages the recipient to participate in a foreign lottery or says the recipient has won a prize in a foreign lottery. Since it is illegal to participate in foreign lotteries, these communications can be rejected out of hand.

Another scam involves the legitimate winner of a big lottery prize. Once the winner is identified fake accounts spread across social media. It’s easy to get images and profile information, so they probably look credible. The offer involves sending money for something like a retweet or other share. Come on now—how hard would it be for someone to keep track of this and send money to a zillion strangers? Please think about that and don’t be tempted to share the fake accounts.

Scams can also come in the guise of supposed automatic entry in a lottery or sweepstakes that the recipient has not entered. A different version is a contact from someone who says he has a willing lottery ticket, probably in another state, and needs money to collect the prize. There is a single answer to all the “money required” scams. No lottery ever requires money to collect a prize. Ever.

Beyond the untruthful messages, here are other warning signs:

  • Use of the recipient’s name. Unless you have a lottery ticket subscription, the lottery does not know your name, so it’s a sure sign of a scam.
  • Asking for gift card numbers or wire transfers. These are other sure signs, according to the FTC.
  • Use of phone area codes 876, 809 and 284. These are actually foreign numbers that are linked to contest frauds. Calling them can result in a large phone bill like the ones for 900 numbers in the US.
  • Sending a check. It will include a message asking for a “processing fee” or something of the sort. Don’t deposit the check; it will bounce. As already stressed, there are never any processing or other fees associated with lottery winnings.

You can ask questions or report scams to the state Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787 or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757 during working hours. Reporting it to  the FTC is also highly recommended.

If your holiday wish list includes lottery tickets, I hope you have a big winner! If you or a member of your family has a significant win, prepare by following the good advice you will find by searching a phrase like ‘how to protect lottery winnings.’ Here’s a hint: a lawyer and a financial advisor quickly become your new best friends.

Also think about people around you who might be vulnerable, especially those who like to think of themselves as adventurous risk takers. Share some of the advice with them and see if they will at least stop to think before doing something harmful.

That will help keep the holidays merry and bright for all!


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