You’ve just won $5,000! Or $5 million. Or maybe it’s a fabulous diamond ring, or luxury vacation? More likely, it’s a prize scam, and you’ll find the prize isn’t worth much — if you get a prize at all. Here’s one way to think about it: if you have to pay, it’s not a prize.

Federal Trade Commission – Consumer Information Website

Things to Know About Prize Scams:

  • Legitimate prizes are free and won by chance
  • When you sign up for prizes, your information will be sold to 3rd parties, meaning that the chances increase that a scammer may have your information and know you respond to prize opportunities.
  • True prize promoters are required by law to tell you certain things, such as the odds of winning, the value of the prizes, entering is free, and how you will redeem a winning prize result.
  • Fake checks may be included to entice you to sign up but they will indicate they are non-negotiable and have no cash value.

Warnings to watch for:

  • If you have to pay to enter or increase your odds, it’s a scam.
  • If you are asked to wire any money in the whole process, it’s a scam.
  • If you are asked to deposit a check and wire some of it back to them or someone else, it’s a scam.
  • If they say they are from the government, it’s a scam.
  • Look at the envelope, if it was mailed in bulk, it’s a scam.
  • You have to attend a meeting or listen to a sales pitch so you don’t lose your prize, it’s a scam. (There are sales pitches for time shares that offer a free gift after you sit in on the meeting or offer to pay for your travel in exchange for sitting in on the pitch. This is different than claiming you won a sweepstakes prize that requires a meeting.)
  • If you receive an envelope that includes a check and references a foreign lottery, it’s a scam.
  • Text messages asking you to go to a web link and enter personal information, is a scam. Do NOT click the link, it could be a malware virus.

What to do if you receive the above:

  • Letters via mail, recycle them.
  • E-mails, delete without clicking on the links.
  • Text messages, report to your cellular provider and delete, do not click on links.
  • If you’re unsure, Google them and research to see what others say. There will usually be a lot of messages sharing something is a scam.
  • There is no shame in asking a younger, tech savvy, relative to review the information.
  • Report to the FTC at the FTC Complaint Site
  • Report to your State’s Attorney General’s Office, you can find the contact information here – State Attorney Generals – alpha by state