How to Easily Spot a Sweepstakes Scam

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Sweepstakes have long been a favorite game in America, with millions of people entering them to win prizes and money. The opportunity to scoop a windfall of cash for little risk is just too good to pass up. These casino sweepstakes can offer huge prizes that go from thousands of dollars and sometimes, to millions. While the history of sweepstakes has not always been squeaky clean, and with the chances of winning on legitimate sweepstakes being abysmally low, these issues have not impacted demand.

Unfortunately, sweepstakes have now hit a market-shifting crossroads. More and more people are reluctant to enter a sweepstake as the massive number of sweepstake scams has hurt their reputation. These scams are carefully designed to exploit the hopes and dreams of people and cause the loss of millions of dollars per year and many cases of identity theft.

How do the Scams Usually Work?

man on phone with money around him

Be careful of unexpected claims you’ve won big money.

Most of the sweepstake scams are initiated by a phone call, an email, or through social media. Some scams still send mail directly to their targets, but electronic methods are more popular as they are faster and cheaper. All these communications have one key similarity, they end up wanting money and/ or sensitive personal information before they will send the prize.

For example, a scammer may call you to congratulate you because you have won a prize. After making a great speech to you that piques your interest in the prize and builds trust, they switch over to the scam. The scammer is now hoping your desire for the prize overrides your sense that something isn’t quite right. The scammers are very convincing and sell the prize well, making you question whether it is a scam at all.

Next, you’ll often be requested to pay a fee to claim a prize. They ask you to pay the fee by wire transfer or gift card, which are huge red flags, as these payment methods are impossible to claim back even in confirmed cases of sweepstakes fraud. Once you send over the funds, many scams will continue to push you for more. Scammers try to get their target to send multiple transactions and high amounts of money as they continue to build a calculated story that provides you reasons why the prize is still being held up. Once the target realizes it is a scam, they could have lost all their savings.

These scams have been around for a long time, and there are no signs of them slowing down. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received over 150,000 reports of fraud from the American people on prize competitions, lotteries, and sweepstakes in 2021, with losses totaling over $260 million. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reviewed the scams reported and found they often targeted the older generation; people aged 55 and over are 75% of the sweepstakes scam victims.

Do the Scammers Ever Get Caught?

The good news is that there is an anti-fraud team that works to catch these criminals. In one case, two Jamaican men pleaded guilty to federal fraud for running a $9.4 million sweepstakes scam. Their scam was based in a Costa Rican call center and went on for eight years. However, most scammers do not get the justice they deserve, as many scams are very hard to trace. Even if a call center is taken down, the real scammers behind the operation will typically be hidden behind several layers of protection and be able to set up a new scam quickly.

3 Signs of a Sweepstakes Scam

Here are three signs you should look out for when it comes to sweepstakes:

  1. You receive a phone call or email that claims you’re a lucky winner, but you don’t recall entering any sweepstakes or have not heard of the sweepstakes company before. You’ll be surprised how many people fall for this trick. Ignore these forms of communication and do not engage with them.
  2. You are asked to share your bank account information and other sensitive personal information like your Social Security Number (SSN). You should never share your bank information unless absolutely certain you are a winner, and in that case, only the information needed for them to send you the prize. With personal data sharing, just don’t do it. And if you feel pressure to send information, that is a common sign of a scam.
  3. You receive a call to say you’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes prize, but a fee needs to be settled before the prize can be released. You will never be required to pay anything to win a prize, so ignore any call like this.

How Can You Tell if Sweepstakes are Legit?

You can find out if a sweepstake is legit if it follows certain rules that are required by the company offering it. First off, only enter online sweepstakes that are licensed and regulated by the state. The licensing information of a reputable sweepstake will be visible and given in all forms of communication.

This will be on printed media, emails, and even located at the footer of the website. You should always read the fine print of a sweepstake and look out for the competition duration, method of entries, prize descriptions, and odds of winning.

If a sweepstake does not disclose this information, then it is likely fraudulent. Reading online reviews to see what others think about a sweepstake is also helpful to tell if it is legit.

3 Ways to Tell Sweepstakes are Safe

These three tips will help you filter out the bad from the good and assist you in playing at only safe sweepstakes:

  1. A sweepstake is usually safe if it is local and based in the USA, and all calls originate from the US with a US area code. Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and the British Virgin Islands are the most active countries making calls for fraudulent sweepstakes. Avoid all foreign sweepstakes no matter how they contact you.
  2. This tip is for people in the higher age bracket, 55 and older, where many are getting scammed out of their life savings. A legitimate sweepstake should not have a problem with you talking about the process they are requesting you to follow with your friends and family. If a sweepstakes representative does not want you talking with others or puts on time pressure to act, it is a scam.
  3. While not based on facts, if you have a feeling that something is off with a sweepstake, then don’t engage with them. This would help many people avoid scams. Your instinct is right more often than not!

How to Avoid a Sweepstake Scam

Unfortunately, scams are now part of life, and we receive them almost daily, whether that be through email, letters, or calls. You should simply always consider something a scam unless you are 100% sure otherwise.

Any phone call that you receive asking for money is likely a scam. You should hang up immediately. If you receive a letter, then check if it was sent in bulk. That means many others received the same piece of mail. Also, many of these scams take place in the Caribbean, so if you receive a call from, or are asked to call a number with an 876, 809, or 284 area code, then it’s probably a scam.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when it comes to sweepstake scams:

  • Don’t provide personal or financial info to those who contact you.
  • Don’t believe all social media posts offering big prize giveaways.
  • Never send money or share gift card numbers to a lottery or contest provider.
  • Never deposit a check in your bank where the person requests you to return a portion of the funds back. The check will bounce and leave you on the hook for the missing money.

What Can I Do if I’ve Been Scammed by Sweepstakes?

If you have fallen victim to a scammer, it will be tough to retrieve your money. These scams are designed to make it difficult to reclaim your funds. You should contact your bank or payment provider right away and let them know of the fraudulent charge and request that the transaction is reversed.

If you sent a letter with payment inside, you should contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 and ask them to intercept the mail. Finally, contact the Federal Trade Commission to see if they can help, or at the very least, become aware of the scam and stop others from falling for it too.

Looking for Entertainment Similar to Sweepstakes?

Whether you got burned by a sweepstakes scam or want to try your hand at a skilled game for a change, you might like these options from casino sites:

  • Social casino games, where a user can chat with other players and a live dealer. There are also lots of options to play free games.
  • If you’re after the thrill that entering and winning sweepstakes offers, try an instant win casino. There are lots of games you can play without learning complex rules, like slots, casino war, or bingo.

Remember, always be skeptical when you think you’ve won big — be careful of where & who it’s coming from, and especially be mindful if you haven’t entered a contest.

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