One day you receive a phone call, email, or letter to tell you that you’re the lucky winner of a sweepstakes, lottery, or prize like a new car, laptop or something else! But what they say next doesn’t seem right – they tell you in order to receive your winnings or prize, you need to pay them or give them your bank account information. Once you pay, you’ll find out there is no prize.
What are the Warning Signs of this Type of Scam?
Who wouldn’t like to win money or a nice, big prize? That’s exactly why scammers continue to promise a prize to steal your money or personal information. The good news is that there are warning signs to look out for so you can tell it’s a scam.
- If someone tells you that a payment is required as well as a fee for "taxes," or "processing, shipping and handling charges," to get your prize, you’re dealing with a scammer – especially if they ask you to pay by sending cash, wiring money, or paying with gift cards or cryptocurrency. Scammers use these payment methods because it’s difficult to track who the money went to and it’s close to impossible to get your money back. Remember, real prizes aren’t supposed to cost you anything!
- They tell you that making a payment will increase your odds of winning – which is not how it works. Only a scammer would tell you that. Remember, real sweepstakes are free and winning is by chance.
- You have to provide them your bank account information. There’s absolutely no reason to ever give out your financial information to claim a prize or receive your sweepstakes winnings. If they ask for this information, don’t give it out!
How Will Scammers Trick You?
Scammers will say anything to steal your money, especially try to trick you into thinking you actually won cash or a prize.
- Scammers will say they’re from the government. They will try to seem professional and convince you that you’ve won a government-supervised lottery or sweepstakes. They will use fake names such as the “National Sweepstakes Bureau,” or pretend they’re from the Federal Trade Commission. Remember, the government will never call you asking for money or tell you you’ve won a prize.
- Scammers pretend to be from well-known organizations that run real sweepstakes. Remember, no actual sweepstakes company will contact you to ask for money in order to claim your prize. If it sounds too believable and you’re unsure, contact the company they say they are from directly to inquire by looking up the company’s contact information yourself.
- Scammers send you a text, email or social media message. The message may say that you won a gift card or an expensive prize, like an iPad or a new car. Scammers hope you’ll provide with your personal information or click on links that were included in their message that can steal your information or download malware onto your device. If you’re unsure if the message is legitimate, it’s always best to not respond.
- Scammers will make it seem like you’re the only person who won a prize. However, they sent the same text, email, or letter to a lot more people. If you received something by mail, check the postmark – if your “notice” was mailed by bulk rate, it means other people got the same notice. For emails or text messages, do a quick search online to see if this is common and others have reported that they received the same message.
- Scammers pressure you to act now in order to get a prize. Scammers will try to rush you into making a payment or provide your information. They’ll tell you it’s a limited time offer and you must “act now” to claim your prize before it’s gone. They don’t want to give you time to evaluate what’s happening so don’t be rushed — especially if they want you to do something to get your prize.
- Scammers send you money then ask you to send some of it back. Be aware of the fake check scam. If you deposit the check you received, it can take your bank several weeks to figure out that it’s a fake check. During that time, the bank makes it look like those funds are available, so it can look like the money is in your bank account. However, once they confirm the check is fake, you’re expected to pay back the funds. Read How to Spot, Avoid, and Report Fake Check Scams for more tips.
Tip: If you’re unable to tell if a contest or company sending you a prize notification is legitimate, perform a quick search online to see what kind of results populate – type the company name with “review,” “complaint,” or “scam” added to the end of it.
Real Contests and Prizes: There are plenty of legitimate contests that organizations run. Review these tips before you submit an entry or claim a prize.
- Legitimate sweepstakes will not require a payment or increase your chances of winning. It’s actually illegal for an organization to ask you to pay to enter the sweepstakes.
- Contest promoters may provide your information to third-parties advertisers. If you enter a contest, you’re most likely going to start receiving promotional mail, telemarketing calls, or spam from advertisers.
- Contest promoters are required to tell you certain information. If they call you, it’s the law to tell you that there is no fee to enter, what the prizes and their values are, the odds of winning, and how you would be able to redeem a prize.
- Sweepstakes mailings are required to include a statement that says you do not have to pay in order to participate. If a fake check is included in the mailing, it has to clearly state that it’s non-negotiable and has no actual cash value.
What You Should Do if You Fell for a Scam
- Stop all communication immediately.
- Contact your financial institution to make them aware of the issue. If the scammer was able to obtain your personal information, they can take extra precautions to help protect your accounts and usually offer additional services.
- File a police report.
- Report it the FTC and see what steps you can take to recover from identity theft.
- Tell your friends and family. You could help them avoid getting scammed.
To learn more about scams, how to protect yourself and your personal information, check out our other blogs on Privacy & Cybersecurity and visit the Lakeland Bank identity theft information center. If you believe you have fallen victim to a scam or your personal information has been compromised, we’re here to help! Contact us.