Congratulations, you’ve won a cash prize! We just need a little information and payment from you so you can collect your winnings.
It can feel exciting to win a lottery or sweepstakes… until you realize that something feels off. Did you actually enter a contest to begin with? Why would they need your Social Security number? And why is this sweepstakes asking you to pay them if you’re the winner?
Unfortunately, you might be the victim of sweepstakes and lottery scams, which are becoming much more common and increasingly targeting people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. One unnamed 74-year-old woman in California, for example, fell prey to one of these schemes last year, and she ended up sending scammers over $16,000 before she realized that it was all a ruse. She’s not alone.
What do you need to know to avoid finding yourself in a similar predicament? There are six key things to keep in mind.
Don’t give away personal information.
Legitimate contests will never ask for a Social Security number, bank account information, or anything similar. Ignore any contest requiring you to hand it over.
Lotteries or sweepstakes that involve upfront fees are often cons.
Legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes almost never ask you to hand over any money to enter the fold, especially not large sums in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Beware of any contest that sends you a check and asks for money back.
These partial checks are incredibly common in lottery scams. Essentially you’ll receive word through the mail saying that you’ve won a contest, along with a check. The sender will then say to send a small amount back to them as “payment” for your prize. Usually these checks are fraudulent, and while they’ll be deposited in your account, the money will be gone the second you try to withdraw funds, leaving you holding the bag.
Don’t trust anyone who tells you that you won a contest that you don’t remember entering.
Official sweepstakes or lotteries require you to enter them, as opposed to them entering you on your behalf or without your consent. You should be suspicious of anyone trying to congratulate you on winning a contest that you have no recollection of taking part in. Moreover, contests like regional lotteries require entrants to come forward if they’ve won to claim their prize and require proof of entry; they don’t contact those people themselves after they announce winners.
Ask to see the fine print for any contest.
Many scams either don’t have fine print or don’t pay close attention to what’s in their fine print. They may be missing key details like start and end dates, contact information for the organization running the sweepstakes, legal disclaimers, and more. If you’re not noticing any legalese or transparent information about who’s even running the lottery or contest, it’s time to bow out.
Get help if you think you may be dealing with lottery scams.
Try using AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 to talk to a volunteer about what you’re experiencing. People who are ages 60 and think they may be the victims of financial fraud can also check out the Department of Justice’s National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-372-8311.
These scams are unfortunate, but by taking some simple precautions, you can avoid a whole world of financial hurt!