But wait, when did you enter the lottery? And how did you get so lucky? And why do you have to send money to receive your winnings? Or, why do you have to pay a ‘nominal fee’ or attend some conference?
Because you’re being scammed. The lottery scam follows the old adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Whether you receive the ‘good’ news via email, snail mail, or in person, three things can give away a classic lottery scam:
1. You didn’t buy a ticket.
First, you haven’t entered a lottery, but ‘won’ anyway. In real life, you can’t win a real lottery without buying a ticket. They may tell you there was some mix up with names, addresses, or someone else bought it in your name, but believe us: no one is going to go out of their way to hand you millions of dollars. Unless you show up to a real lottery company with a real winning lottery ticket in hand, you aren’t walking away a millionaire.
This is especially true for foreign lotteries. Not only is participating in a foreign lottery via mail or phone a violation of federal law, but there is no way a lottery in Barbados or Lithuania is going to track you down to make you rich.
2. They ask you for money.
Second, after they get you excited about winning, they ask you to pay a fee, or tax, or courier charge to get your money. If you win the real lottery, all the fees and taxes are subtracted from the amount given to you. These ‘nominal’ fees are scammers’ bread and butter, and they can add up quickly. While you wait for your giant check, they are running away with your money. If you peruse Scambook’s other blog entries, you’ll find that wiring a stranger your money is a recipe for disaster. Buying a real lotto ticket gives you a 1 in 195,249,054 chance of hitting the jackpot, and your chances of getting your money back from a wire fraud aren’t much better.
3. Notified through Free Email or Mass Mailing.
Third, if you receive the notice via email, it will almost always come from free email services like gmail, yahoo, msn, or hotmail. This is not because these are bad email services, but because the scammers will constantly make new email accounts to avoid being tracked or recognized. If you receive notice by mail, they may even send you a very convincing check, but there will be a million more ‘winners’ opening similar checks around the country. They will also often use names of real lottery organizations, but don’t be fooled. These scammers are professional liars and aren’t shy about using the good names of reputable companies to separate you from your hard earned money. But remember, if a real lottery company is contacting you, they won’t use a free email server or mail you a check. And once again, a real lottery gains nothing from tracking down its winners, no matter how big or small.
There is a classic variation on this scam where you haven’t hit the big one, but someone else has and they are willing to sell you the winning ticket. They explain that they can’t cash in because they work for the lotto or some other technicality, but will sell you the ticket and split the winnings. In person, they might even show you the ticket with the correct numbers (but with the incorrect date, or with a 0 changed to an 8, or some other easily overlooked difference) and offer it for sale for as little as $20. If you are feeling charitable, give him your money, but if you expect anything in return, walk away.
So what can you do if the scammers got you this time? If there was a website or company name affiliated with the scam, report it to Scambook and share your experience with others. And one last thing: don’t let the scammers get you down. These are professional liars and thieves and they prey on the trust and good will of citizens like you. Be cautious in the future and educate your friends and family so the same doesn’t happen to them, but don’t let the scammers take away what makes you, you.