How Lottery & Sweeptakes Scams Work

Updated: May 29, 2019

You receive a phone call congratulating you on your lottery/sweepstakes winnings.  Your name/numbers were drawn at random and you will receive your monetary reward along with a new Mercedes.  The scammers will typically say you’ve won Mega Millions. Or, Publisher’s Clearinghouse calls you to let you know you’ve won their most recent drawing.  Either way, all you have to do is pay the taxes and maybe a processing fee. Sometimes, they will start out saying you’ve won second prize, which is still hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then later, because for some reason, you’ve been upgraded and now have won the first-place prize….it just now costs you more in taxes.  You need to keep it a secret for security reasons. You’re advised to start paying the taxes by mailing cash to various individuals. You’ll be advised to send it certified mail via FedEx or UPS, and to put the money inside a magazine so it’s not detected. You mail cash to various individuals who are supposed to represent the lottery/sweepstakes in some capacity.  You’re told a delivery driver will be on his way, maybe even in an armored truck to deliver your prize, but keep it a secret until it’s delivered. You may also be asked to purchase MoneyGram’s, get certified checks, or buy gift cards and read the numbers off the back.

Why this scam works:

You’ve never won anything before, so you’re not sure how it all works.  The caller sounds like he’s giving you good advice and he’s helping you all along the way to answer any and all of your questions. You may even be told what to say when making your withdrawals so that you aren’t questioned or hassled at the bank. The caller befriends you and gains your trust. They seem happy for you and you feel good about it.  

What you need to do:

Slow down. Don’t get caught up in your emotions, even though you’ll be getting phone calls constantly making sure you’re getting the money quickly.  Know that you can’t win a lottery or sweepstakes if you don’t buy a ticket in advance. In fact, your odds of winning are astronomically against you when you do buy a ticket. If you didn’t purchase a ticket and have it in your possession already, you didn’t win. Numbers aren’t drawn for you in Mega Millions. If they tell you that your receipt was drawn because you shopped at Walmart or something, run. That’s not a legitimate lottery.  

If they say they’re with Publisher’s Clearinghouse, (PCH), know that PCH will never call you in advance. Plus, they NEVER ask for money up-front. They just show up at your door and surprise you. Call PCH and ask if you’re on the winner’s list (800-459-4724). Ask if you should need to pay anything in advance. They will tell you that you never have to pay money up-front to win a sweepstakes.

Also, sometimes people will receive an email or letter stating they’ve won an International lottery, and you need to contact your claims agent and read off some numbers to him.  Those are always bogus. Also, it’s illegal to win a foreign lottery.

If you find that you’re the victim of a lottery/sweepstakes scam, you can file a police report, report it to the Federal Trade Commission ( and the Internet Crimes Enforcement Network ( If you mailed cash, you can report it to the US Postal Inspectors at 877-876-2455.

*Many of the caller id’s in lottery scams will show a number from area code 876 which is Jamaica, and the capital of lottery scams. Or area code 202 which is Washington, DC, and therefore, appears official.  Scammers can and do “spoof” the number they call from.

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