Powerball Scams

A lottery scam is any type of fraudulent activity where a criminal attempts to extract money or personal details from a victim by pretending to represent or have an association with an official lottery organization.

Lottery scams are among the most widespread types of fraud and are very lucrative for the perpetrators. Enforcement agencies reported that people living in the U.S. and Canada lost a total of $117 million to lottery scams in 2017 alone, and advised that the actual figure would probably have been significantly higher if all scams were reported.

Although lottery scams are becoming more sophisticated, they are easy to spot if you know what to look for. Most importantly, remember that you cannot win a prize in any lottery, sweepstake, raffle or contest that you haven't entered. Furthermore, lottery providers will never make you pay taxes or fees before you receive your winnings - taxes are paid only to the government after you make your claim.

How to Identify a Powerball Scam

Powerball scams can take many different forms, but they do share some common characteristics. If you notice any of the below in a message or call about lottery winnings, you should take it as a red flag and proceed with caution.

  • Fraudulent letters and emails are often addressed to a general recipient, e.g. “reader” or “winner”, rather than being personalized with someone’s name. They may contain errors in spelling and grammar, as well as factual mistakes about the game. However, be aware that the lack of such mistakes isn’t enough to conclude that the message is genuine, as some can look very professional and may even use official Powerball branding.
  • If the letter or email you receive mentions a prize, you should check the date and the amount stated. If you did not buy a Powerball ticket on that day or match the numbers needed to win that prize, the correspondence is a scam.
  • A fake check may be attached to the letter or submitted as an attachment to an email. You may only figure out that the check is a fake once you have taken it to a bank to cash it in. Scammers may try to encourage you to open email attachments to install viruses or other malicious software (also known as “malware”) on your device.
  • A scammer will often stress the need to claim your "prize" as soon as possible and will urge you not to tell others about the win. This is to try and prevent other people from discovering the fraud for what it is. You would never be required to keep a real win secret unless you chose to. If you’re not sure about the legitimacy of a message you’ve received, you should definitely reach out to other people for advice.
  • The scam requires you to pay a "tax" or "processing fee" up front in order to receive the money. By the time you have paid the fee, the scammer has disappeared, and no winnings ever materialize. No legitimate lottery would ask for money before a prize is paid, but scammers hope that the false promise of a large windfall will be enough to make you part with your cash. Alternatively, they may state that there has been a mistake and you have been overpaid so must give some of the prize back. Again, no official lottery would act in this way.
  • If you are contacted by someone purporting to be a previous jackpot winner, it is almost certain to be a scam. Many lottery fraudsters impersonate jackpot winners, especially those that have gone on record to say they want to help others or do charitable work with the money. The scammer may even include a news article about the winner they are impersonating as validation that the message is genuine. However, this does not constitute proof of their identity, as a lot of this information is in the public domain and is easily obtainable. They will say they have selected you at random to receive a share of their wealth, or they will perhaps post something on social media about giving money away to the first 100 people who send their email addresses. It may all sound like a great opportunity, but their goal is to trick you out of your money.
  • If you ever receive an unsolicited offer to buy lottery tickets for very low prices, you should be aware that it is very likely to be scam, and the tickets are either fake or don’t exist at all. These sales will often be attempted over the phone and will require you to provide personal details and bank or credit card information there and then. No legitimate lottery provider would call you out of the blue to sell you tickets, and they certainly wouldn’t offer them for a fraction of their usual price.

Types of Powerball Scams

Powerball scams can come in many forms. You may be targeted via phone call, text message, letter, email or even through social media. The following list outlines some of the most popular communication methods used for lottery scams, but note that this list is not exhaustive, as scammers are constantly coming up with new ways to cheat people out of their money.

Phone Scams: A fraudster will call you over the phone and say they work for Powerball or a state lottery which runs the game. Their first objective will be to assure you that you’re speaking to an official lottery representative, and they will do this by quoting meaningless reference numbers or ticket information, details about the lottery you’ve won and even names and contact numbers of others within the organization.

Once they’ve done this they will say that some sort of fee is needed to process the prize claim and that you need to pay this as soon as possible, otherwise the claim will expire. This is to pressure you into acting on impulse, and they count on the fact that most people wouldn’t want to miss out on a large amount of money just because they hesitated.

Phone scams commonly target older or more vulnerable people, as they’re more likely to trust that the person at the other end of the phone is from a genuine lottery provider.

Scammers commonly dial from specific area codes originating from outside the U.S. Jamaica does not offer Powerball but has been a major source of lottery scams over the past few years. Callers often impersonate the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes and tell people they have won a large prize. Jamaica’s area code is 876 so it is a good idea to check the caller ID before picking up, although scammers can make it look like they are calling from inside the U.S. There have also been a growing number of cases of lottery fraud originating from Costa Rica.

Fake Ticket Scams: Another type of scam involves the sale of fake lottery tickets. These scammers will offer you a number of lottery tickets for a very low price, and will often enact these scams over the phone, as there is no paper trail. The cost of the tickets will be low enough to make it tempting to a lot of people, but it will be high enough for the scammer to make money off just a few calls. For example, you might be offered 100 Powerball lines for $10, which works out at just 10 cents a line. This in itself should be a warning sign, as no legitimate lottery provider would offer lottery tickets for next to no cost.

These scams will often solicit payment for the tickets immediately, and you will be encouraged to hand over bank details or credit card details over the phone. Once the scammers have this information, there’s no telling how much money they might siphon out of your account.

Mail Scams: A letter is sent with information about a huge Powerball win, asking you to mail back a portion of the money in order to receive the full sum. The letter will often say that you must respond immediately, otherwise you will lose the prize.

It is often elderly people who are targeted in these type of scams, and it may be people who have previously given money to other scams and have found their way onto “victim” lists. Victims may only send small amounts each time, but if they keep falling into the trap the losses can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Email Scams: Much like mail scams, an email scam will attempt to convince you that you have won a huge amount of money, but that you must cover vague "taxes" or "fees" if you want to receive the cash. There may be a link to a website where you can "claim" the prize, which could contain malware that allows scammers to access personal information on your computer. Fraudulent emails can look very authentic and may even link to clones of official websites. They are becomingly increasingly common as the criminals can send emails to lots of people at little or no cost.

Some scam emails may seem innocuous, only asking you to reply with a few personal details such as your name and date of birth, but if you were to send this information it would flag to the scammers that you might be open to disclosing further, more important information with a little more coercion.

Cell Phone Scams: You receive a text message from an unknown number saying that you have won a Powerball prize, and that you need to call the number back to arrange claiming the money. If you do call, you may find yourself on the phone to a premium rate service and facing a steep phone bill. The premium rate service has been set up by the scammer so they can make money from you just for calling, even if they cannot convince you to give up personal or financial information.

Social Media Scams: You receive a message on Facebook, Twitter or another platform telling you that your account was selected to win a Powerball prize, and that you need to follow a specific link to make a claim. You are told that you need to act as soon as possible to receive the winnings, but after paying the "fees" necessary, the funds will never appear.

Fraudsters can also use social media to pose as real winners. They have been known to set up accounts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the name and picture of a famous winner, offering money to anyone who shares personal information such as their name, address, and email address.

How to Fight Back Against Powerball Scams

If you think you might have come across a Powerball scam or have been contacted by a fraudster, you should act in the following way to make sure you do not become a victim:

  • Do not contact the scammer or engage with them in any way.
  • Do not open any link or attachment contained in a suspicious email.
  • Do not send any money or personal information. If you have already disclosed sensitive information, contact your bank or credit union right away to minimize or prevent the risk of identity fraud.
  • You can send a message to your state's Attorney General (AG) to alert them about a possible lottery scam. If you are unsure about how to contact your AG, you can use the list provided through the National Association of Attorneys General.
  • Complaints about Powerball scams can also be sent to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a consumer protection agency that covers all US states and territories.

Powerball offers some of the biggest jackpots in the world, but the only way to have a chance of winning is to buy tickets from an official retailer. Don't fall victim to a scam!