Better Business Bureau receives calls almost daily from consumers who got a letter or email stating that they’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes. The letter usually instructs the victim to deposit an enclosed check and then wire a portion back to the company to cover taxes or administration fees.
The request to wire back money – using Western Union, MoneyGram or a prepaid card like Green Dot MoneyPak – should be a red flag. If you win a prize, fees normally are deducted from the prize money before you get it. It’s also a red flag when you get a notification that you’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes that you didn’t enter. And if the lottery is in a foreign country, it’s an even bigger red flag: It’s illegal for U.S. citizens to participate in foreign lotteries.
If you make the mistake of cashing the check and sending money back, you could end up with a big overdraft on your bank account – or at least a much smaller balance. These checks are often fake, and if you send the money, it will be debited from your account. You are extremely unlikely to get money back. BBB has talked to numerous consumers who’ve lost thousands to this scheme.
BBB advises consumers never to wire money to someone they don’t know. You should never have to send money to receive any winnings from a lottery or sweepstakes.