Be on the lookout for common lottery scams
Image source: Radial Monster via Flickr Creative Commons
Research shows that it is the poorest counties and households that are more likely to play the lottery and, along with seniors, are the most likely targets for North Carolina lottery scams. If you play the lottery regularly, the notion that you may have struck it big can be very exciting. This is why it's so easy for scammers to take advantage. And, unfortunately, it's those that cannot really afford to play the lottery that also cannot afford to be cheated out of their hard-earned money. Let's take a look at four common lottery scams and how to protect yourself...
#1 Lottery prize claim fee
This scam starts with a phone call from someone saying they're calling from the North Carolina Education Lottery (NCEL) and notifying you that you've “won” the lottery. They then tell you that you need to pay a processing fee, claim fee or a deposit to secure the prize. This also occurs with calls saying you've won a sweepstakes. A common version of this scam is being run out of Jamaica and is targeting seniors in NC and other states.
How to protect yourself: Hang up on any call like this. The lottery commisson never, ever notifies people of a win over the phone. It is your responsibility to check your ticket to see if it's a winner and to claim the prize youself. And anyone who calls about a sweepstakes is either trying to scam you or sell you something you likely can't afford or don't need (like a time share). Just hang up...
#2 Need to verify your identification for your winning ticket
This scam starts with a call notifying you that you've “won” a lottery or sweepstakes prize. The caller says they need to verify your identity to process your prize. They will ask a variety of questions – name, address, social security number, driver's license number – some or all of these. Then they may go a step further and ask for a credit card number simply to confirm your ID and promise they won't charge anything to it. All of this information can then be used for identity theft.
How to protect yourself: The hang up advice is good for this one too. The lottery will ask for identification if you have a lottery ticket over a certain dollar amount that needs to be processed in person. For smaller amounts or scratchers, usually the ticket itself is your proof. But again, no one will call you to notify you of your win. Never give out your personal info over the phone...
#3 Need help claiming the prize
This scam starts with a phone call, email or letter asking for help. This is a twist that reminds me of the old Nigerian Prince scam. The caller (or writer) tells you that they've won the lottery but can't cash in the ticket because they are not a US citizen. They offer you a share of the jackpot if you help them. Then they either ask for information they can use to engage in identity theft or ask you to send your share in exchange for the winning ticket that you can then “cash in.”
How to protect yourself: Ignore any offer that seems too good to be true. There's no such thing as a free lunch or a prince sharing their lottery ticket or inheritance with you - and you don't have to be a citizen to win the lotto. When you're desperate for money, you may be willing to jump at anything that sounds like it can be a quick fix, but just say no. Delete the email, throw out the letter or hang up on the call.
#4 Selling fake lotto tickets
This scam occurs when someone offers to sell you a winning ticket because they don't have time to cash it in because they're leaving town, lack ID or some other excuse – the ticket may be a fake or for a lottery that's already occurred (and it's not a winner). Alternately, someone offers to sell you a scratcher or other lottery ticket that's a straight up fake, forgery or that's already irredeemable for some other reason. Approaches may be made in person, email or over the phone – perhaps in the parking lot of a store that sells tickets.
How to protect yourself: Only purchase lottery tickets directly from a certified North Carolina Education Lottery retailer and never an individual. No matter what the person says or offers, never buy a lottery ticket from someone else – it's not worth the risk. You can lose far more than just the few dollars a ticket will cost if you're taken in by this scam.
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