“You’ve won the lottery!” It’s something that many people want to hear. But sometimes those words come from scammers trying to steal your money.
They may try to get you to pay them a “fee” or “taxes” to collect a non-existent prize. Or they may try to get your bank account number, claiming they’ll wire prize money into it.
Today the Virginia Lottery launched a campaign aimed at informing lottery players and non-players alike to be careful when someone tells you you’ve won a large prize. The “Play Smart” campaign includes a public service announcement (PSA) for TV and radio, a brochure filled with tips on how to avoid being scammed, and media outreach efforts.
Fake lottery scams often target older people and have been known to wipe out victims’ retirement savings.
The scams take many forms. In most cases, the criminals email or call to tell intended victims they have won a large prize. They might identify themselves as being with the Virginia Lottery or with Mega Millions, even though Mega Millions is not an organization.
If the victim is fooled into thinking he or she has won a prize, the crooks often try to get the person to send them money or personal information. Another trick is to send the winner a bogus “check” and ask the winner to send money back to cover expenses.
It is only after victims have sent their own money that they discover the check they received is no good.
There are some occasions, usually involving second-chance prizes or subscription wins, when a Virginia Lottery representative will call players to inform them they won. However, for the vast majority of prizes, the Lottery does not call winners.
Here are some tips that can prevent you from being scammed:
- If someone says you have won a lottery that you have never played, be suspicious. You can’t win a legitimate lottery if you didn’t buy a ticket or enter a Lottery sweepstakes.
- If you have caller-ID on your phone, check the caller’s area code. If it’s from a foreign country, that’s a red flag. Also, be aware that some con artists use technology that allows them to disguise their area code; although it may look like they’re calling from Virginia, they could be anywhere in the world.
- Be suspicious if an email contains misspellings or poor grammar or if the person who called you speaks broken English.
- If you are told that you need to keep your “win” confidential, be suspicious.
- No real lottery tells winners to put up their own money in order to collect a prize they have already won. If you have to pay a fee to collect your winnings, you haven’t won.
- Just because a real lottery is mentioned does not necessarily make it a real prize. Someone may be using the lottery’s name without its permission or knowledge.
- Never give out personal information or send money unless you verify the company’s or solicitor’s legitimacy.
- If they offer to wire the “winnings” directly into your bank account, do not give them your bank account information.
- If you are told that you can “verify” the prize by calling a certain number, that number may be part of the scam. Instead of calling it, you should look up the name of the lottery or organization on your own to find out its real contact information.
- If you think someone on the phone is trying to scam you, hang up immediately. If you engage them in conversation, your name and contact information could end up on a list that’s shared with other scammers.
The Virginia Attorney General’s Office has a consumer protection hotline that people can call if they feel they’ve been the victims of a fake lottery scam. The number is 800-552-9963.
Also, the Federal Trade Commission has more information on fake lottery and other scams at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt022.shtm. To file a complaint or get free information, call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).