Unexpected prize and lottery scams work by asking you to pay some sort of fee in order to claim your prize or winnings from a competition or lottery you never entered.
How this scam works
You will receive notification that you have won a lot of money or a fantastic prize in a competition, lottery or sweepstake that you don’t remember entering. The contact may come by mail, telephone, email, text message or social media.
The prize you have ‘won’ could be anything from a tropical holiday to electronic equipment such as a laptop or a smartphone, or even money from an international lottery.
To claim your prize, you will be asked to pay a fee. 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.
The email, letter or text message you receive will ask you to respond quickly or risk missing out. It may also urge you 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.
Lottery scams may use the names of legitimate overseas lotteries (often Spanish lotteries), so that 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.
Real examples of lottery scams:
- Lottery scam - El Gordo Sweepstake ( PDF 177.84 KB )
- Lottery scam - The UK National Lottery ( PDF 29.69 KB )
- Lottery scam - Australian Lotto Inc ( PDF 40.18 KB )
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. Scammers 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, such as a few thousand dollars of winnings, to trick you into thinking the offer is legitimate. However this cheque will eventually bounce and you will not receive any real payments.
The scammer will take your payment and fail to deliver the prize, or send you something that falls short of the promised prize.
A newer version of unexpected prize scams involves scammers gaining access to someone’s social media account and contacting extended family members (aunts, cousins etc) and telling them that they have all won money. The scammer then provides an email address through which they will receive instructions on how to claim their prize. This is a particularly insidious version of the scam as it uses the trust between family members to succeed in scamming people out of their money.
Real life story
- You receive a letter, email or text message saying you have won a guaranteed prize in a lottery or competition that you did not enter. This may come from even trusted individuals like family over social media.
The sender claims you are a winner from your email address or social media account being chosen at random. They may say the offer is 'legal' or 'legitimate', and has 'government approval'.
The unexpected prize might be linked to a company which doesn’t normally run such competitions such as electronics or social media companies.
- To claim your prize you are asked to buy a ticket, or pay a fee or tax.
- You may be asked to provide your bank account details, or to send the fee to a PO box number or via a money transfer service.
If you haven’t entered a lottery or competition, you can’t win it.
- If someone asks you to pay money up-front in order to receive a prize or winnings, it’s almost always a scam. Legitimate lotteries do not require you to pay a fee to collect winnings.
- Be careful of phone numbers beginning with 190. These are charged at a premium rate (sometimes even for receiving a message) and can be very expensive.
- Verify the identity of the contact by calling the relevant organisation directly – find them through an independent source such as a phone book or online search. Do not use the contact details provided in the message sent to you.
Do an internet search on any of the details of the competition – many scams can be identified this way.
- Never send money or give credit card, online account details, or copies of important personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.
Avoid anything that requests payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
Have you been scammed?
If you think you have provided your bank account or credit card details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.
We encourage you to report scams to the ACCC via the report a scam page. This helps us to warn people about current scams, monitor trends and disrupt scams where possible. Please include details of the scam contact you received, for example, email or screenshot.
Spread the word to your friends and family to protect them.