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Spotting Fake Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams on Social Media
The Federal Trade Commission received around 148,000 cases of reported fraud from fake lottery, sweepstakes and prize scams in 2021. This is a 27% increase from 2020 figures and has seen members of the public defrauded of $225 million in one year. Even the most switched-on social media user can fall foul to these con men who are experts in the field of scamming. In this case, what steps can you take to ensure you don’t become part of the ever-growing sweepstake and lotto frauds?
Telltale Signs of a Prize Scam
Who doesn’t want to win a lump sum of cash, a luxury car or a dream holiday? This is the first step of sweepstakes and lotto scams on social media. And these prizes are all nonexistent.
The main signs to look out for are:
- A request for you to pay to receive your prize. Often this is in the form of ‘taxes’ or ‘fees for shipping or processing your gift'.
- You have to hand over your financial details to receive your prize.
- Genuine sweepstakes are free to play, yet scammers do ask users to send money to ‘increase their chances of winning’.
Fake Sweepstakes and Lottery Red Flags
The first point of contact that a scammer will make with you on social media will usually be via private message. Though often they might comment on a public post that you made, or as a reply to a comment you left on another user's profile. There are various ways in which users are ‘hooked in’ and it’s important to be able to spot those red flags before things get out of control:
- Sweepstakes scammers will use free email addresses such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail
- Scammers pressure you to ‘act fast - don’t miss out’
- The lottery win is from a foreign lotto unless it is a legit multi-jurisdictional lottery, the lotto is likely to be a scam
- You could be instructed to keep your prize a ‘secret’ from others
- You are asked to click on a link within the message to claim the prize or call an overseas telephone number with your bank details
- The message could appear like it’s from a legitimate organisation, but it isn’t
- There are blatant typos and images within the message which don’t look official
- Scammers often pretend they are your favourite celebrities, contacting you with an exclusive prize
Crooks will often create realistic-looking profiles to swindle you out of your money. With Facebook Messenger being the preferred first step for the majority of fake sweeps and lottery scams. This app can be used by strangers or even scammers who don’t have a Facebook account.
One such popular scam is the Publishers Clearing House (PCH) fraud. Or scammers use a fake profile depicting either Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg. The New York Times recently reported that it discovered 208 such Facebook and Instagram accounts with around 100 profiles belonging to lottery scams.
How to Spot a Scam on Instagram
Spotting the tricksters on Insta is a little different and fraudsters tend to be more sneaky on this social media platform. Recent trends seen from scams include:
- The sweepstake or lottery requests you to complete a lot of tasks. Surveys, clicking boxes, following various links etc.
- The account which contacts you doesn’t have many followers and it hasn’t posted much content or had any recent activity.
- The account claims to be from a reputable organization but doesn’t have the blue verified ‘tick’.
- The post will encourage you to share, comment and tag your followers, for more chances of winning
- Random hashtags are used and there are bots in the comments
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