Lotteries and Sweepstakes Scams

Scam artists often use the promise of a valuable prize or award to entice people to send money.

The Bait:

You get a letter or an email message that claims you’ve already won a foreign lottery or an online sweepstakes. The letter may be from a government agency, a bank, a well-known national company, or a company you never heard of. Regardless of the return address, the only thing between you and your winnings: a check or wire transfer from you to cover taxes, fees, shipping costs, or insurance.

The Catch:

It’s illegal to play a foreign lottery. Any letter or email from a lottery or sweepstakes that asks you to pay taxes, fees, shipping, or insurance to claim your prize is a scam.

Some scammers ask you to send the money through a wire transfer. That’s because wire transfers are efficient: your money is transferred and available for pick up very quickly. Once it’s transferred, it’s gone. Others ask you to send a check or pay for your supposed winnings with a credit card. The reason: they use your bank account numbers to withdraw funds without your approval, or your credit card numbers to run up charges.

What You Can Do:

An offer to play a foreign lottery can be tempting and fun, but it’s also illegal. If a sweepstakes run by an American company is legitimate, you won’t have to pay to enter or to win. That’s the law. No federal government agency runs or supervises a lottery; regardless, if you have to pay, it’s a purchase, not a prize.

Report Online Scams

If you believe you’ve responded to an online scam, file a complaint with:

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