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Unexpected 'prizes'

What is an unexpected prize scam?

An unexpected or fake prize scam will tell you that you have won a prize or a competition. There are often costs involved with claiming your prize and even if you do receive a prize, it may not be what was promised to you.

These scams work by taking your money and then not sending the prize or sending a prize that is not what you expected. The scammers make their money by making you pay fees or call their premium rate phone numbers (usually starting with 190) to claim your ‘prize’. These premium rate calls can be very expensive and the scammers will try to keep you on the line for a long time or ask you to call a different premium rate number.

You could be notified that you have won a prize in any number of ways—by mail, telephone, internet or in person.

You will lose any money that you pay and you may not receive a prize. Even if you do receive a prize, it might not be what you expected.

Warning signs

  • You are approached with the offer of a guaranteed prize.
  • To claim your prize you have to buy a ticket.
  • You have to pay fees to collect your prize.
  • You have to call a premium rate phone number (usually starting with 190) to claim your prize.
  • The approach claims to be legal.
  • The address to send your fee to is a PO box number.

Protect yourself from unexpected prize scams

  • Use your commonsense—the offer may be a scam.
  • Do not send any money or pay any fee to claim a prize or lottery winnings.
  • Be careful of phone numbers beginning with 190. These are charged at a premium rate and can be very expensive.
  • Look out for SMS and MMS numbers that start with 19. These are charged at a premium rate (sometimes even for receiving a message) and can be very expensive.
  • Read all the terms and conditions of any offer very carefully—claims of free or very cheap offers often have hidden costs.

As well as following these specific tips, find out how to protect yourself from all sorts of other scams.

Do your homework

If you think the prize offer might be genuine, contact your local office of fair trading—they may be able to tell you more about the offer and if it is likely to be a scam.

Be sure that you know what the prize actually is—what conditions are attached to it and how much it will cost to claim it.

Letters, emails and other approaches claiming that you have won an unexpected prize or a competition you did not enter are almost always scams.


If you are told that you’ve won a prize when you haven’t entered any competitions do not respond. Do not write back, do not call the telephone number listed and do not send any money, credit card details or other personal details to the scammers. Responding only indicates that you're interested and you could end up with many more fake offers in the future.

If it is anything other than a registered competition or one you remember entering—say no!

Report them

If you have received a prize offer and suspect it could be a scam, or if you have sent money to claim a prize which you now realise is a scam, you can report a scam through the SCAMwatch website. You should also spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.


What to do if you've been scammed; Scams & the law; Report a scam.

Victim story: Nicole thought she had won the holiday of a lifetime. What happened next made her wish she had never called the phone number to claim her ‘prize’.

Similar scams:

Fake lottery or sweepstakes ‘winnings’ to tempt you into sending money or your personal details.

You are asked to send money upfront for a product or ‘reward’. You will end up with something much less than you expected, or nothing at all.

Offers of ‘free’ website access, downloads, holidays, shares or product trials – but you have to supply your credit card or other personal details.

You are encouraged to enter a competition or trivia contest over SMS for a great prize – but misled about your chances or how much it will cost to take part.

Phishing emails are fake emails usually pretending to be from banks or other financial institutions. They make up some reason for you to give your account details and then use these details to steal your money.

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