It seems like the entire country has been caught up in Powerball fever. And with the largest payout in history—approximately 1.6 billion dollars, in case you hadn’t heard—it’s no wonder.
Sadly, as with any major headlining event, scammers are standing ready to trick the public out of their money. As the young people say, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”
First of all, lottery scams are nothing new. Most of the major state-run and national lotteries even have warnings on their websites about some of the tricks thieves have tried in the past. Popular myth-debunking site Snopes.com reports regularly on different lottery-based frauds and gimmicks. So what makes the Powerball any different? Opportunity. While long-time lottery scammers have been plying their trade for years, new opportunities to cheat people for a few bucks means even more scammers may be out there, setting their sights on you.
Here are some tips to remember during this feverish time, whether you choose to participate in this lottery (or any lottery, for that matter) or not:
- You will not be contacted – The reason the Powerball payoff is so high was because unclaimed money rolls over to the next drawing. During the weeks when there was no jackpot winner, the historic amount got even bigger. But that doesn’t stop scammers from calling, emailing, texting, or sending messages via social media, telling you that your ticket from last week contained enough of the matching numbers to earn you a few million dollars. All you have to do to claim your prize is wire them the taxes and fees. Obviously, that’s a scam. Taxes and fees are handled after you claim your winnings, and they certainly aren’t handled over Facebook messaging.
- Entitlement claims – Believe or not, people really do fall for hoaxes that claim anyone who shares a specific post on Facebook is going to receive one million dollars due to Mark Zuckerberg’s agreement with the Powerball organization. No, all you will do is end up informing all of your Facebook contacts that you’re gullible. Even worse, once the internet learns how gullible you are for sharing it, that’s when scammers line up in your message inbox to promise you that you really did win. All you have to do (again) is send them money to cover some fee or tax.
- The sharing scam – There have been a wide variety of scams, not just involving the lottery, in which the originator claims he lives in a region where “such and such” isn’t legal. Therefore, if you’ll help him out, he’ll share the money with you. Some states, like Alabama, don’t have a lottery; that means not only is there no state lottery, but even tickets to nationwide opportunities like the Powerball aren’t available for sale within the state. That doesn’t mean that a person in Alabama can’t go to any of the three bordering states which have lotteries and purchase a legal ticket, and then claim his winnings in spite of his address.
- And the winners are… – There were reportedly three winners who will share the jackpot: one from California, one from Tennessee, and one from Florida. Of course, that means that the winners could conceivably live in any of the neighboring states, too. There were also many different winners who had some form of adequate winning numbers—some of them will receive a million dollars, some will receive $50,000, and on down to the lowest qualifying number. That means there’s a huge potential for scamming, especially if you live in those states or vicinities. Whether it’s an internet message from someone pretending to be a jackpot winner who’s giving away his fortune, or a message claiming that you’re a lower-level (and therefore, more believable) winner and only have to pay a small amount to claim it, the opportunity to become a victim is tremendous at this time.
Do keep in mind that there is a very real possibility of not just scams, but other financial crimes. If anyone approaches you and asks you to take possession of their lottery winnings to avoid paying taxes, to avoid having to share it with an ex-wife who’s owed child support, or other similar request, stay far away. That type of behavior is illegal, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.
If anyone ever approaches you for any reason with a request to move or transfer money, it is not only a scam, it is a crime. At the very least you’ll be in harm’s way for receiving and moving stolen property; more likely, there was never any money to move in the first place and you will instead be turning over your own funds in the scam. Stay far away from these offers, and protect yourself from the fraud.