Skip to Content

How do you avoid lottery scams?

Lottery scams are unfortunately very common. Scammers will try to convince you that you’ve won a big prize in a lottery or sweepstakes that you never even entered. They will then ask you to pay various fees in order to claim your “winnings.” Of course, there are no real winnings, and any money you send to the scammers will be lost. Here are some tips to avoid falling victim to these scams:

Be skeptical of any unexpected winnings

If you receive a letter, email, phone call, or other communication informing you that you’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes that you don’t remember entering, be very suspicious. Legitimate lotteries don’t contact “winners” out of the blue asking for money to collect prizes. Assume any notification of unexpected winnings is a scam attempt.

Research unfamiliar lotteries

Scammers often use the names of fake or unfamiliar lotteries and sweepstakes to make their scams seem more legitimate. If you hear about a lottery you’ve never entered or a sweepstakes sponsor you’ve never heard of, do some research before responding. Search for the name of the lottery/sweepstakes online and look for information about whether it’s legitimate. If you can’t find any evidence that it’s real, it’s likely a scam.

Never pay upfront fees

Real lotteries and sweepstakes never require you to pay processing fees, taxes, or other charges upfront in order to collect winnings. If you’re asked for money before you can receive your prize, don’t pay it. This is always a giveaway that it’s a scam.

Watch for poor spelling and grammar

Scam lottery notifications are often riddled with spelling and grammar errors. The scammers are usually not native English speakers. If you receive a notice that’s poorly written, it’s likely a scam attempt rather than from a real organization.

Only use official lottery websites

When entering legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes, make sure to only use the organization’s official website. Avoid any links claiming you’ve won a lottery that take you to unofficial sites you’re unfamiliar with. Scammers create lookalike sites to trick people into thinking they’re legitimate.

How to Identify Lottery Scams

Here are some telltale signs that a lottery notification is really a scam attempt:

You’re asked to pay taxes or fees upfront

As mentioned above, real lotteries never require you to pay fees or taxes before you can collect winnings. Any request for upfront money is always a red flag.

You’re told you can “confirm” a prize by submitting payment

Scammers will try to make their pitches seem more legitimate by claiming you need to confirm your winnings by providing personal details and submitting payment. Don’t fall for this – confirming a legitimate prize would never require you to pay.

The notification comes via an urgent or unusual method

Watch out for prize notices delivered in unexpected ways, like overnight courier, personal messenger, or urgent-sounding email or phone call. Legitimate lottery organizers won’t bombard you with urgent communications insisting you’ve won.

You’re asked for sensitive personal information

Scammers may try to get financial account numbers, copies of identification, or other sensitive info by claiming they need to verify your identity. Never provide this type of information in response to a prize notice.

The lottery is unfamiliar or can’t be verified

Do online searches to verify the existence of any lottery you supposedly won but don’t remember entering. Check for company names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. If you can’t find independent evidence it’s real, it’s likely a scam.

You’re told you can transfer the prize to someone else

Scammers sometimes claim prizes can be conveniently transferred to a friend or relative if you can’t collect it yourself. But real lotteries have strict rules on who can claim prizes, and transfers are not allowed.

The notification contains poor spelling and grammar

As noted earlier, scam lottery pitches are often filled with mistakes. Numerous spelling, grammar, formatting and stylistic errors are a clue that the notice isn’t legitimate.

You’re required to pay via unusual methods

Watch out if you’re asked to pay fees using hard-to-trace methods like prepaid cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency or overseas bank accounts. This is done to avoid detection. Legitimate lotteries only use normal payment methods.

Who is behind lottery scams?

Lottery scammers can be individuals or organized groups operating domestically or internationally. Some known sources of common lottery scams include:

West African criminal networks

There are extensive and sophisticated lottery scam operations based in countries like Nigeria and Ghana that target victims worldwide. They carry out scams by phone, email, mail, and other methods.

“419” scammers

Named after the Nigerian penal code section on fraud, “419” scammers specialize in various advance fee scams including fake lotteries. They are prolific users of spam email for their scams.

Organized domestic scam rings

Groups coordinating lottery scams operate inside countries like the United States, often buying lead lists and working from scripted pitches delivered by phone. Some scam senior citizens specifically.

Individual scammers

Small-time scammers around the world also perpetrate lottery scams on their own, using fake prize notices for a quick payoff from as many victims as possible. A single scam letter can reach millions.

Crooked telemarketers

Telemarketing call centers have been known to run lottery scams using persuadive scripts to convince victims to send money to claim fake prizes.

Corrupt postal employees

In some cases, lottery scam operations have involved corrupt insiders, like postal workers who identify and sell customer mailing lists to scammers.

How do lottery scams work?

Lottery scammers use a variety of schemes, but the basics involve convincing you that you’ve won a substantial prize and then requiring some type of payment to claim it. Some common techniques include:

Official-looking letters

You receive a letter, purportedly from a well-known lottery or sweepstakes sponsor, informing you that you’ve won a major prize. To claim it, you need to pay various fees first.

Unexpected phone calls

You get a call out of the blue telling you that you’ve won a valuable lottery prize, but you need to wire money to cover taxes before it can be released.

Email prize notifications

Scammers send spam emails telling recipients they’ve won millions in an online or foreign lottery that they can claim by submitting payment via money transfer.

Social media prize posts

Fraudulent posts may appear on social media informing you that you’ve won a lottery and requesting you message the account privately to claim your winnings after paying a fee.

Counterfeit websites

Scammers create lookalike versions of legitimate lottery websites to trick people into thinking they are entering a real lottery or confirming a prize “win.”

Remote assistants

A caller pressures you to visit a store like Walmart and pay fees to lottery representatives you contact remotely, supposedly to process your prize claim.

How Much do Lottery Scams Cost Victims?

According to the FBI, victims collectively lose hundreds of millions of dollars per year to lottery scams in the U.S. alone. Some key figures on losses include:

  • In 2019, more than $117 million was lost to fake lotteries and sweepstakes.
  • Reported losses exceeded $56 million in the first half of 2020.
  • From 2018-2020, there was a nearly 40% increase in losses.
  • The average reported loss in 2020 was $2,100 per individual.
  • Over 70% of victims are at least 50 years old.

Globally, lottery scams are believed to cost victims billions per year. They often target seniors, who tend to be the most susceptible to falling for the scams and losing substantial sums.

Reporting and Avoiding Lottery Scams

If you receive any communication about an unexpected lottery or sweepstakes prize, don’t respond. Report scam attempts like phony prize letters, calls, or emails to platforms like these:

  • Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker
  • Federal Trade Commission Complaint Assistant
  • Crimestoppers USA
  • AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline

You can also report phone scams to your state attorney general’s office or the FTC’s Do Not Call Registry. Signing up for the Do Not Call list can help limit telemarketing calls.

To avoid being victimized, be wary of any lottery prize notification you didn’t expect. Legitimate lotteries don’t contact people randomly to announce winnings. Remember that real prizes never require upfront fees. If you’re asked to pay to claim a prize, it’s always a scam attempt that will only lead to financial loss.

Lottery Scam Statistics

Year Reported Losses
2018 $84 million
2019 $117 million
2020 $56 million (first half)
Age Group Rate of Loss
Under 30 9%
30-39 14%
40-49 12%
50-59 18%
60-69 26%
70+ 21%

Stories from Lottery Scam Victims

* “I received an email saying I had won $5 million in a sweepstakes. I was so excited. But it said I needed to pay $5,000 for processing fees before I could get the prize. I realized too late it was probably a scam and lost the $5,000 I sent.”

* “A letter came in the mail with an official-looking seal announcing I had won $4 million. I called the number and spoke to a man saying I just needed to pay $2,500 in taxes before they could release my winnings. After I wired the money, they asked for more payments and I knew I had been tricked.”

* “I got a call telling me I had won a $2.5 million jackpot but had to pay $750 in fees to a lottery representative at a MoneyGram location first. I sent the money, but the winnings never came and I lost my savings.”

* “A message popped up online that I had won an online sweepstakes. I was doubtful but they knew my name and sent what looked like real legal documents. The letter said to wire $15,000 to an account to cover prize fees. By the time I realized it was all fake, my money was long gone.”

* “I entered what I thought was the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes online. After a week, I got a call saying I needed to pay a $500 delivery fee to claim my prize. They said I had to buy eBay gift cards and give them the numbers. It turned out to be a scam and I’m out $500.”

Key Tips to Avoid Lottery Scams

  • Be wary of all unsolicited prize claims. Legitimate contests won’t ask you to pay fees.
  • Verify unfamiliar contest names online to check if they’re real.
  • Ignore any request to pay upfront taxes, fees or other charges.
  • Watch for poor spelling and grammar as a red flag.
  • Only use official lottery websites, not links sent to you.
  • Never provide your personal or financial details.
  • Report all suspected scams immediately.


Lottery scams succeed by taking advantage of people’s tendency to believe they’ve received an amazing stroke of good fortune. Sadly, there are deceitful scammers ready to exploit that excitement over promised fake windfalls. Be vigilant about any sudden prize notification, validate unfamiliar contests before responding, and remember you can’t win a lottery you never entered. Avoiding financial loss from these scams comes down to being skeptical, doing research, and never paying upfront fees just to receive winnings. Reporting fraud attempts helps warn others about new tricks scammers might try. Staying aware of common lottery and sweepstakes scams is the key to keeping your hard-earned money safely out of the hands of fraudsters.