Beware if “You’ve won!”, but you didn’t enter

By Sabrina Karl

It would seem everyone’s familiar with the email that appears in your inbox saying you’ve won a lottery prize in a foreign country. But thieves are still running this scam because, frankly, it still works.


The premise goes like this: By email, snail mail, or phone, you’re told you’ve been selected as the lucky winner of a large cash prize in a lottery by ABC country. All you have to do to claim your winnings is wire the government the required taxes and fees.


Sometimes the supposed winner is even sent a check for the prize money before wiring payment to the government. Part of the scam, of course, is that the check is a fake that will bounce if you cash it.


Two red flags you can notice on notifications like this are, first, you can’t win a lottery, sweepstakes, or contest you didn’t enter. Don’t remember entering the South African National Lottery? Then you almost certainly didn’t and couldn’t possibly have won.


Second, claiming you must directly pay taxes and fees to the government is also tip-off, as all legitimate lotteries simply subtract such payments from the prize before distributing it.


Also common among these communications is that the “winner” is asked to keep the news hush-hush, claiming some mix-up of winner names. In truth, the aim is to stop the intended victim from discussing the information with anyone who might alert them that the prize is illegitimate.


As with all of the frauds we’ve spotlighted in this space, the primary goal is getting you to pay and/or provide your bank account information to a third party you don’t know. Protect your money and your accounts from these scammers by ignoring their messages, and help fight future scams by reporting the contact to the Federal Trade Commission.