FBI Portland
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November 7, 2017

FBI Tech Tuesday—Building a Digital Defense Against Lottery Scams

Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against lottery scams.

Do you ever daydream about what you would you do if you won the lottery? Even if you only buy a ticket once in awhile, I would bet that many of you do what I do—and that is regularly dream of a life suddenly enriched by millions of dollars. Unfortunately, criminals know how to capitalize on your financial fantasies. In 2016, 72 Oregonians reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center that they had been victimized in a lottery scam.

So what is a lottery scam? It starts when you receive a notification that you hit the jackpot. The notification might come in the form of a phone call, letter, or e-mail, and it can be pretty convincing. The voice on the other end of the line might sound very professional, or the letter might be from a legitimate-sounding organization. The scammer wants to sound genuine, because he needs you to trust him as he launches into Phase 2.

Phase 2 starts when the scammer asks for money or information. You need to give him your bank account info so he can send you your money, of course. Or, you need to pay taxes before you can receive your winnings. Sounds reasonable, I guess? Or, you just need to pay for a few legal documents to be created. Whatever the excuse, the fraudster needs you to do something before you can claim your prize. Usually, the amounts he asks you to pay initially won't be very large because he wants to keep stringing you along for as long as he can. In the end, though, these small payments add up. Some victims have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of many years.

So how do you protect yourself?

  • Be wary of strangers offering you lots of money. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Be cautious when dealing with individuals outside of your own country. Note that it is a violation of federal law to play a foreign lottery via mail or phone.
  • Beware of lotteries that charge a fee prior to the delivery of your prize.
  • Don't give your banking information to strangers or unfamiliar organizations.
  • Remember, if you didn't enter a lottery, you probably didn't win one.

If you have been victimized by this or any online scam, report your suspicious contacts to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.