St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and parties and parades are already in the final planning stages around the country. But there’s another major plan in the works, one that has nothing to do with this fun festival and everything to do with separating you from your money.
A lottery scam is still an ever-present threat despite high-tech cybercrime initiatives like hacking. These far more low-tech means of stealing from innocent victims take no skill whatsoever to accomplish, meaning they may be more likely to impact you than high-tech crimes.
There are many different ways a lottery scam can manifest, but they all have a few things in common. First, there’s some “story” behind why they need you to pay a small fee in order to claim your outrageously high-dollar winnings. Second, they want access to your bank account to directly transfer your winnings to you.
The fees – Different versions of lottery scams have different reasons for this phony fee. It might be taxes on your new wealth, a “transfer” fee since the lottery originates in a foreign country, a currency exchange rate fee (again, due to the different country of origin), or a processing fee to transfer the money to you. In any event, it’s all fake. There’s no reason at all—not even taxes, which are paid after you accept the money and not before—to give anyone a payment in order to claim something you have won.
The account access – Scammers who claim you’ll receive a direct deposit or electronic transfer will ask for your bank account number, your routing number, and even things like your Social Security number or birthdate. The criminals have no intention of putting money into your account, but with the information they requested they can easily remove every penny you already have.
A lottery scam, fake sweepstake, and phony contest have some other common threads, and you can spot them before they strike if you understand a few universal truths:
- You will never, ever win a contest of any kind if you did not enter it. That means the Jamaican lottery or the Facebook sweepstakes or any other phony contest is not going to send you millions of dollars.
- There is no such thing as a transfer fee, upfront tax costs, or any other payment required for receiving money you have already won.
- Online contests should be treated with caution. There are some legal web-based outlets for selling lottery tickets within the US, but even those sites are coming under fire for being too similar to known but unrelated scams.
- You do not have to “win” to be a victim. Officials have reported a marked increase in scams in which the thief claims he is a foreigner who bought a legitimate lottery ticket within the US, but that he cannot win because he is not a citizen. He offers to split the money with you if you will go claim the winnings, but asks you for a hefty fee up front to ensure you do not run off with his ticket.
- Ticket scams are another common threat, especially for sought-after sports events or sold-out concerts and theater performances. Beware of messages that claim you have won tickets (or have the opportunity to pay for a chance to win tickets) to March Madness, “Hamilton,” or any other exclusive event.
Read next: The How and Why of Tax Identity Theft