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Have you won the Facebook lottery?

Facebook may not pay as much tax in the UK as some think it should do. It may have allowed Cambridge Analytica to access the data of millions of its users without their express permission. And it may be a source of infinite distraction when you’re trying to get a piece of work done. But it does not – and I repeat not – run lotteries. I’m going to talk about the Facebook lottery scam.

Why might you think Facebook does run lotteries? Because scammers are known to use Facebook to message people telling them they’ve won a big cash prize in the Facebook lottery. The way it usually works is you receive a message telling you your name is on a list of winners. The message may look legitimate, because it appears to come from a genuine Facebook friend whom you would normally trust, but that’s because the scammers have taken over someone else’s account by hijacking or cloning it.

To claim your prize, you are instructed to click on a link. This will take you to what appears to be a Facebook Lottery website. It will probably look quite realistic, with a version of the Facebook logo and photos of past winners, but it’s fake.

Your name will be on the winners’ list, sure enough, but to take delivery of the cash you’ll have to part with your name and other details. By this I mean your banking information and Facebook login and password, which will potentially enable the scammers to hack into your finances and Facebook account. You’ll almost certainly also be asked to make a payment as well.

This particular ruse has a name. It’s called the advance fee scam and the payment will be dressed up either as a transaction charge, it might supposedly be to cover the administrative cost of processing your claim, or it could be described as an insurance premium.

If you do make an upfront payment – and of course I advise you not to in no uncertain terms – you may well be asked for a further payment, and then perhaps another payment. Each one may not be particularly significant, but they will mount up and tie you in to the scam. You won’t see that money again and you won’t see the big cash prize you’ve theoretically won either.

Sometimes – and I say sometimes because there are many variants on this scam – you will be told that the amount you’re being asked to pay is directly proportional to the size of the lump sum you’ve won, so the bigger the upfront payment, the bigger the prize. Obviously, though, this is just another strategy designed to hook you in and persuade you to hand over even more money.

I say there are many variants on this scam and there are, which makes it difficult to give very precise instructions for avoiding it, but that’s why my message is that there are no Facebook lotteries. They don’t exist and Facebook doesn’t give away big cash prizes like this, so if you see anything purporting to be a Facebook lottery please steer well clear of it, because it’s a scam.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist and a National Trading Standards Scams Team Scambassador.

Facebook may be a source of infinite distraction when you’re trying to get work done. But it does not run lotteries. It's the Facebook lottery scam.

How to spot (and avoid) these Facebook and social media prize scams

Prize scams are as old as the hills, but people keep falling for them — sending the fraudsters hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to claim their cash, luxury cars or other non-existent prizes.

Sweepstakes, lottery and prize scams “are among the most serious and pervasive frauds operating today,” according to a new report from the Better Business Bureau. And along with phone calls, letters and email, the crooks are now using text messages, pop-ups and phony Facebook messages to lure their victims. In fact, social media is now involved in a third of the sweepstakes fraud complaints received by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

“Scammers are like viruses. They mutate and adapt and find things that work,” said Steve Baker, former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest region and author of the BBB report. “The crooks have discovered social media big time and since social media is free to use, they can easily do a whole lot of damage from other countries.”

The BBB study found that:

  • Nearly 500,000 people reported a sweepstakes, lottery or other prize scam to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada in the last three years.
  • Monetary losses totaled $117 million last year.

Facebook Messenger Lottery Fraud

Scammers are creating bogus websites that look like a legitimate lottery or sweepstakes site. Or they are reaching out to potential victims who don’t properly set their privacy settings on social media platforms such as Facebook.

The BBB report says Facebook Messenger, the private messaging app, is a favorite way for fraudsters to find victims. They can use Messenger — with or without a Facebook profile — and contact people who are not Facebook friends.

In many cases, the bogus message appears to be from Publishers Clearing House (PCH) congratulating you on winning a big prize. To claim that prize, it says, you need to send them money.

“That’s a red flag warning,” said Chris Irving, a PCH assistant vice president. “If anybody asks you to send money to collect a prize, you know it’s a scam and it’s not from the real Publishers Clearing House. At Publishers Clearing House or any legitimate sweepstakes, the winning is always free — no purchase, no payment, no taxes or customs to pay.”

The crooks also impersonate Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in some of their phony Messenger messages.

“They post a fake profile of Zuckerberg on Facebook,” Baker said. “Then they send you a message through the Facebook messenger system saying: ‘Hi this is Mark Zuckerberg. I’m delighted to be able to tell you that you have won the Facebook Lottery and here is the person you need to contact to get the money.’ ”

Take the bait and click the link, and you’ll be told to send money to claim your winnings. Of course, there is no Facebook Lottery and Zuckerberg is not sending prize notices to anyone.

In a recent story on social media scams, the New York Times reported it found 208 accounts that impersonated Zuckerberg or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on Facebook and Instagram. At least 51 of the impostor accounts, including 43 on Instagram, were lottery scams. (In 2012, Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion.)

Facebook says it’s working to stop the scammers who use its platform to trick people out of their money. In March, the company announced it was using new machine learning techniques that helped it detect more than a half-million accounts related to fraudulent activity.

“These ploys are not allowed on Facebook and we’re constantly working to better defend against them,” said Product Manager Scott Dickens. “While we block millions of fake accounts at registration every day, we still need to focus on the would-be scammers who manage to create accounts. Our new machine learning models are trained on previously confirmed scams to help detect new ones.”

The BBB report calls on Facebook and other social media platforms to make “additional efforts” to prevent fake profiles and to make it easier for users to contact them about fraud.

No, you didn’t win the Facebook Lottery — they don’t have one. Use these tips to avoid falling victim to a social media scam.