Lottery, sweepstakes and competition scams explained

Today, we’ll examine the most common types of phishing scams preying on human gambling excitement and greed: lottery, sweepstakes and competition


Lottery, sweepstakes and competition scams explained. Source:

Every person must have wealth on their top 3 wish list. However, not everyone is willing to work hard for that goal. Therefore, people look for the analogues of genies and fairies granting wishes in the real world. Unfortunately, they ultimately fall for some kind of “get rich quick” schemes that bring financial losses rather than gains.


The basic concept of every government lottery is that many people buy low-cost tickets for a chance to win a grand prize. When we deal with private lotteries, participants may pay indirectly. For instance, they can make purchases exceeding a certain amount in a sponsor’s store, dine at the sponsoring restaurant, be a loyal client of the brand network, etc. However, such lotteries are prohibited in certain states and areas.

The lottery scams work in the opposite way. They claim you have already won the prize, but need to pay a processing or transfer fee to receive it. In addition, scammers may ask you to give them your account information so that they transfer the money you have won. Needless to say, victims don’t get any prizes and have their accounts compromised instead.

Many email lottery scams use the names of legitimate lottery organisations or businesses to sound more trustworthy. After all, chances are the recipients may have participated in some kind of legitimate luck testing. Besides monetary prizes, fraudsters may tell you that you have won a gift card or a discount code to a local store, expensive devices, a car, a holiday trip, and even household items. The email, letter or text message you receive will ask you to respond quickly, or risk missing out. Another common request would be to keep this prize announcement confidential, for security reasons. In reality, this is done so that your friends and relatives don’t raise your suspicions.

The signs of a fake lottery notification are: you’ve never registered for it or bought lottery tickets, you are asked to pay advance administrative fees, you need to provide personal information or banking details to receive the prize. With real lotteries, your data must have been registered and collected before.

If the scammers use the name of a legitimate organisation, close the email and check the official website. They may use international lottery names so that it’s harder to check and contact the organisation. Stay away from such prize offers.

Sometimes the scammers actually do send a partial winnings cheque, to trick you into thinking the offer is legitimate. However, this cheque will eventually bounce and you will not receive any real payments. Furthermore, cashing fraudulent cheques is a crime. If you deposit that cheque, you could be fined and have your bank account closed.

A new version of unexpected prize scams involves compromising someone’s social media account. Scammers can then contact extended family members and friends, telling them that they have all won money. They also provide an email address through which they will receive instructions on how to claim their prize.


A sweepstake is a type of game of chance where a prize or prizes are awarded to random participants. Sweepstakes began as a form of lottery that was tied to products sold. Today, they are giveaways often held by brands to promote particular products or services. Sweepstakes differ from lotteries as they don’t include any purchases or fees on behalf of the participants. They may, however, require certain promotional actions such as sharing the sweepstake announcement on social media, subscribing to the sponsor’s profile page, etc.

In the US, sweepstake sponsors are very careful to not suggest any charges that players must pay to enter or win, since this would constitute gambling and become illegal. Scammers, on the other hand, would surely request you to pay for increasing your chances or getting the prize in the first place.

Remember that you can never increase your odds in sweepstakes. The prizes are distributed randomly. They are not based on any merits, individual results or characteristics. It’s pure luck. Most often the winners are selected by automated random number generators or spinning wheels.

Hence, you shouldn’t pay for participation, promotion, or receiving the prize. Also, beware of the links included in the emails regarding sweepstakes. They may be used for a phishing attack.


Contests stand out among other types of quick enrichment. They require some effort and non-monetary consideration from the participants. Moreover, the winners are not chosen randomly. Prizes are assigned according to one’s personal merits, skills, achievements, bright ideas, etc. In other words, you can’t unknowingly enter the contest, and surely can’t win one without doing anything. Contest winners are selected by judges based on specific criteria.

At the same time, monetary consideration is not technically prohibited for entering the contest. Therefore, brands may use contests as a way to boost sales, requiring participants to perform certain purchase tasks. Artists and creators may also be charged a certain fee for an opportunity to demonstrate their skills to the sponsor and win money or get their artwork published. To ensure there is no gambling or lottery law violation, there can be no “chance” elements in a skill-based contest. Hence, even those who have made equal financial efforts to win must be judged on further criteria.

When it comes to contest scams, you are also asked to pay a fee, taxes, or customs duties to claim your prize. Some prize notifications arrive immediately and it’s not possible in real contests since they need the jury’s approval. If you participate in an online contest and get “the prize” right away, it’s a scam.

Even in legitimate cases where you have to pay money to participate, you wouldn’t need to use a wire service, retailers’ gift cards, cryptocurrencies, and other untraceable payment methods.

Fake contests always want personal or financial details. You should never give any details about your bank accounts, and be careful if you’re asked to give your address or contact details.

A type of contest scam is a text trivia scam. You get texts with questions on a certain subject. Answering those would allegedly get you a great prize. The first questions are usually easy, to encourage you to keep playing. To claim your “prize,” however, you’ll be asked a question that’s virtually impossible to answer correctly. In addition, you’ll be charged at extremely high rates for the messages you send and receive. Hence, don’t enter such trivia competitions unless you’re 100% sure of the sender’s trustworthiness.


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