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Prize Scams

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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.

  • About Contests and Prizes
  • Signs of a Prize Scam
  • Foreign Lotteries
  • Text Message Prize Offers
  • Check Them Out
  • Report a Scam

About Contests and Prizes

Who doesn’t want to win something? But before you drop in a quick entry or follow instructions to claim a prize, here are a few things to know:

Legitimate sweepstakes are free and by chance

It’s illegal to ask you to pay or buy something to enter or increase your odds of winning.

Prize promoters might sell your information to advertisers

When you sign up for a contest or drawing, you probably will get more promotional mail, telemarketing calls, or spam email instead of a prize.

Prize promoters have to tell you certain things

Telemarketers are legally required to tell you the odds of winning, the nature or value of the prizes, that entering is free, and the terms and conditions to redeem a prize. Sweepstakes mailings also must tell you that you don’t have to pay to participate. They also can’t claim that you’re a winner unless you’ve actually won a prize. And they’re not legally permitted to include fake checks that don’t clearly state they’re non-negotiable and have no cash value.

Signs of a Prize Scam

Plenty of contests are run by reputable marketers and non-profits. But every day, people lose thousands of dollars to prize scams. Here are some signs you’re dealing with a scam:

You have to pay

Legitimate sweepstakes don’t make you pay a fee or buy something to enter or improve your chances of winning — that includes paying “taxes,” “shipping and handling charges,” or “processing fees” to get your prize. There’s also no reason to give someone your checking account number or credit card number in response to a sweepstakes promotion.

A skills contest where you do things like solve problems or answer questions correctly can ask you to pay. But these contests also tend to get more difficult and expensive as you advance, leaving contestants with nothing to show for their money and effort.

You have to wire money

You may be told to wire money to an agent of “Lloyd’s of London” or another well-known company — often in a foreign country — to “insure” delivery of the prize. Don’t do it. Wiring money is like sending cash: once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. The same goes for sending a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier, or putting money on a prepaid debit card.

You have to deposit a check they’ve sent to you

When you do, they’ll ask you to wire a portion of the money back. The check will turn out to be a fake, and you will owe the bank any money you withdrew.

You’re told they’re from the government — or another organization with a name that sounds official

They might say they’re from an agency like the Federal Trade Commission and are informing you that you’ve won a federally supervised lottery or sweepstakes. Or they might use an official-sounding name like “the national consumer protection agency” or the non-existent “National Sweepstakes Bureau.” But they’re imposters. The FTC doesn’t oversee sweepstakes, and no federal government agency or legitimate sweepstakes company will contact you to ask for money so you can claim a prize.

Other scammers might pretend to be a company like Publishers Clearing House or Reader’s Digest, which run legitimate sweepstakes. Look for signs of a scam, but if you’re still unsure, contact the real companies to find out the truth.

Your “notice” was mailed by bulk rate

It’s not likely you’ve won a big prize if your notification was mailed by bulk rate. Other people got the same notice, too. Check the postmark on the envelope or postcard. Do you even remember entering? If not, odds are you didn’t.

You have to attend a sales meeting to win

If you agree to attend, you’re likely to endure a high-pressure sales pitch. In fact, any pressure to “act now” before you miss out on a prize is a sign of a scam.

You get a call out of the blue, even though you’re on the Do Not Call Registry

Once you register your phone number for free at donotcall.gov, unwanted telemarketing calls should stop within 30 days. Unless the company falls under one of the exemptions, it shouldn’t be calling: it’s illegal.

Foreign Lotteries

Sometimes a letter you get will say you’ve won a foreign lottery or sweepstakes. Typically, the letter will include a check. This is a fake check scam. Or a letter will say they’re offering you a chance to enter a foreign lottery. The truth is that, even if your name was entered, it’s illegal to play a foreign lottery.

Text Message Prize Offers

You get a text message that says you’ve won a gift card or other free prize. When you go to the website and enter your personal information, you’ll also be asked to sign up for “trial offers” — offers that leave you with recurring monthly charges. Worse, the spammer could sell your information to identity thieves.

When you see a spam text offering a gift, gift card, or free service, report it to your carrier, then delete it. Don’t reply or click on any links; often, they install malware on your computer and take you to spoof sites that look real but are in business to steal your information.

Check Them Out

Scammers don’t obey the law. To avoid a scam, you have to do some research. If you’re not sure about a contest or promoter, try typing the company or product name into your favorite search engine with terms like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” You also might check it out with your state attorney general or local consumer protection office.

Keep in mind that many questionable prize promotion companies don’t stay in one place long enough to establish a track record, so if no complaints come up, it’s no guarantee that the offer is real.

Report a Scam

If you think you’ve been targeted by a prize scam, report it to the FTC.

In fraudulent schemes, "winners" almost always have to dip into their pockets to enter a contest or collect their "prize.

Find unclaimed money through sweepstakes and lottery

Ever bought a lottery ticket then forgotten about it? You may want to dig up your old tickets to make sure you didn’t win!

In 2017 there was $2.89 billion in unclaimed lottery prizes across the U.S. In 2011, a $77 million prize went unclaimed in Georgia (the biggest unclaimed prize ever)!

This article will explain how lottery winnings and other types of money go unclaimed, and what you can do to retrieve your money.

What happens to lottery money if it’s not claimed?

Typically in the lottery, after the announcement of the winning numbers (the “draw date”), the winner has a designated amount of time to present their ticket and claim their prize, usually between 90 and 360 days depending on the state and contest. You can find this information is on the physical ticket. After the specified amount of days your prize expires, you cannot claim it, and the state determines how to use that money. Some states distribute the money to other prizes and contests, while other states choose to use it for public services.

For example, in the Florida lottery “80 percent of unclaimed prize funds from expired tickets is transferred directly to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund. The remaining 20 percent is returned to the prize pool from which future prizes are awarded or used for special prize promotions.”

In some states and contests (like Pennsylvania’s lottery) you can fill out a claim form with the Lottery to cash in the prize late.

How to find and claim unclaimed lottery winnings:

Each state has a website dedicated to matching unclaimed lottery money with the ticket-holders. Using these sites, you can look for your ticket number on the list of winning numbers whose prize has not been claimed.

Check your state’s unclaimed lottery website for your ticket number to find out if you’ve won:

We hope we’ve helped you hit the jackpot from the lottery, or your own personal jackpot of missing money to claim.

Thanks for reading! Ready to start searching for your money? Visit ClaimFound.com.

Check out our User Stories page to read success stories from people who got their money back through ClaimFound.

Find unclaimed money through sweepstakes and lottery Ever bought a lottery ticket then forgotten about it? You may want to dig up your old tickets to make sure you didn’t win! In 2017 there