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Lottery and sweepstake scams

What is a lottery or sweepstakes scam?

An email, letter or text message from an overseas lottery or sweepstakes company arrives from out of nowhere. It will advise you that you have won a lot of money or fantastic prizes—in a lottery or sweepstakes competition you did not enter.

Lottery scams will often use the names of legitimate overseas lotteries (often Spanish lotteries), so that even if you do some superficial research, the scam will seem real. Some examples of the real Spanish lotteries that the scammers falsely use are Loteria Primitiva and El Gordo. It is impossible for you to win these lotteries if you have not bought a ticket from an authorised distributor in Spain.

Some other names that scammers will often use are the International Lotto Commission and the Princess Diana Lottery, among others.

The email, letter or text message you receive about your winnings will ask you to respond quickly or risk missing out. The scammers do this to try and stop you thinking about the surprise too much in case you start to suspect it could be a scam.

You could also be urged to keep your winnings private or confidential, to ‘maintain security’ or stop other people from getting your ‘prize’ by mistake. Scammers do this to prevent you from seeking further information or advice from independent sources.

You will usually be asked to pay some fees to release your winnings. Scammers will often say these fees are for insurance costs, government taxes, bank fees or courier charges. The scammers make money by continually collecting these ‘fees’ from you and stalling the payment of your 'winnings’. You will lose all the money you pay to the scammers.

You may also be asked to provide personal details to ‘prove’ that you are the correct winner and to give your bank account details so the prize can be sent to you. The scammer will use these details to try to misuse your identity and steal any money you have in your bank account.

Sometimes the scammers actually do send a cheque for part of your ‘winnings’ (a few thousand dollars perhaps). This cheque will eventually bounce (be dishonoured) but you may have sent money to the scammers in the meantime.

Warning signs

  • You receive a letter, email or text message saying you have won a prize in a lottery or sweepstakes that you did not even enter.
  • You are asked to send a fee or bank account details to collect your prize. Legitimate lotteries do not require you to pay a fee to collect winnings.
  • A full street address is not given. Instead, a post office (PO) box number, email address or mobile phone number is provided as a contact point.
  • The sender claims that they have identified you as a winner by randomly choosing your email address. Official lottery offices do not select prize winners this way nor do they use email to advise players that a prize has been won. Sweepstake scammers email as many people as they can.
  • The sender claims the offer is legal.
  • The sender claims the offer has government approval.

Protect yourself from lottery and sweepstakes scams

Do not send any money or pay any fee to claim a prize or lottery winnings.

  • Do not open suspicious or unsolicited emails (spam)—delete them.
  • Never reply to a spam email (even to unsubscribe).
  • Never call a telephone number that you see in a spam email.
  • Never respond to a text message which says you have won a competition that you did not enter.
  • Do not click on any links in a spam email, or open any files attached to them.
  • If it looks too good to be true—it probably is.

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

Do your homework

Contact your local office of fair trading to find out more—letters and especially emails telling you that you’ve won a lottery are almost always scams.

Seek independent advice from a trained professional such as an accountant or solicitor if you are seriously thinking about sending money to claim a prize.

Don’t provide your credit card or bank account details to anybody you are not completely sure about.

Decide

If you receive an email, letter or text message telling you that you’ve won a lottery or a sweepstakes prize—do not respond. Do not write back and do not send any money or personal details to the scammers.

Providing personal details such as bank account details will make you vulnerable to having your identity stolen. You may have your bank account cleaned out or a loan taken out in your name. Responding to emails through internet links might also threaten your computer security through the use of spyware.

If you respond, you might also be put on a list and flooded with similar emails or letters.

If the lottery is anything other than a registered lottery—say no! Be very wary of sweepstakes competitions that ask you to send money or personal details.

Report them

If you have received a lottery or sweepstakes scam, or if you have sent money to a lottery or sweepstakes promotion that 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.

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See a lottery scam example

If you are able to recognise the warning signs, you can take an active role in reducing the likelihood of being a victim.

We have published a range of example scams so you can see how the scammers trick you. Visit see-a-scam to help you learn how to recognise the warning signs.

If you read the information on lottery scams and study our lottery scam examples, you will stand a much better chance of staying ahead of the scammers. Prevention is the most effective tool against scams.

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

Similar scams:


Unexpected prizes that need you to send money to claim—you may never receive the prize or it may not be what you expected.

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.

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© Commonwealth of Australia 2014