The old saying, “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” means a lot of people get into the March holiday spirit, but the “luck o’ the Irish” isn’t funny when you’re victimized by a lottery scam. Unfortunately, this kind of scam has been around for a long time, and it’s still stealing from new victims every day.
In a lottery or sweepstakes scam, you receive a message informing you that you’ve won some kind of major prize, usually an unspeakable amount of money. You can also include scams involving enormous inheritances from long-lost relatives in that list. Basically, anytime someone contacts you and says there’s a ton of money headed your way, it’s most likely this kind of scam.
Typically, there is some “catch” to it. You have to pay the taxes up front, or you have to pay an electronic transfer fee. But what’s a few thousand dollars compared to the millions you’re about to receive? Even in cases where scammers haven’t demanded payment, they’ve requested the victim’s bank account number and routing number in order to electronically transfer the money, only to wipe out those funds later.
So how do you protect yourself from this kind of scam? After all, no one wants to think they let millions of dollars slip through their fingers. In these cases, it’s important to remember the lucky Four Leaf Clover:
Who is the sender? If you receive a message from someone you’ve never heard of, ask yourself what made them pick out your name. How did they get your information? What made them sit down at a computer and email you, or even more confusing, what made them designate you as the winner in the first place? What company is even providing the prize money?
What did I have to do to win? In a legitimate lottery or sweepstakes, you have to enter the contest somehow. You either purchased the lucky lottery ticket or had your name entered in some kind of drawing. At the very least you were the 100thcustomer who walked through the door that day or made a purchase that automatically qualified you to win.
Why am I paying money to receive…money? If you ever do win the lottery, yes, you’ll pay taxes on those winnings. There are different mechanisms to do so, such as taking a smaller lump sum amount and paying the taxes by filing with the IRS, or opting for multi-year payments and filing each year with your regular tax return. But no one will ever be required to pay BEFORE receiving their winnings.
How official is this announcement? If you receive an email telling you that you’re now a millionaire, ask yourself this important question: “Wouldn’t news like that come from an official source?” Instead, scammers rely on cheesy-looking, grammatically incorrect messages because they only want to hear back from gullible people. They don’t want to waste their time with someone who says, “No thanks, I’ll pay those taxes in accordance with the law after you send me my winnings.” If you ever legitimately win any kind of prize, you can rest assured that the documentation will be more official than an email.
Perhaps we can’t all have the luck of the Irish, but we can work to protect ourselves from scams and fraud attempts. The best way to reduce your risk is to stay informed and make sure you think it through before responding to a request for money or personal information.
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.