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How to spot (and avoid) these Facebook and social media prize scams

Prize scams are as old as the hills, but people keep falling for them — sending the fraudsters hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to claim their cash, luxury cars or other non-existent prizes.

Sweepstakes, lottery and prize scams “are among the most serious and pervasive frauds operating today,” according to a new report from the Better Business Bureau. And along with phone calls, letters and email, the crooks are now using text messages, pop-ups and phony Facebook messages to lure their victims. In fact, social media is now involved in a third of the sweepstakes fraud complaints received by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

“Scammers are like viruses. They mutate and adapt and find things that work,” said Steve Baker, former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest region and author of the BBB report. “The crooks have discovered social media big time and since social media is free to use, they can easily do a whole lot of damage from other countries.”

The BBB study found that:

  • Nearly 500,000 people reported a sweepstakes, lottery or other prize scam to law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Canada in the last three years.
  • Monetary losses totaled $117 million last year.

Facebook Messenger Lottery Fraud

Scammers are creating bogus websites that look like a legitimate lottery or sweepstakes site. Or they are reaching out to potential victims who don’t properly set their privacy settings on social media platforms such as Facebook.

The BBB report says Facebook Messenger, the private messaging app, is a favorite way for fraudsters to find victims. They can use Messenger — with or without a Facebook profile — and contact people who are not Facebook friends.

In many cases, the bogus message appears to be from Publishers Clearing House (PCH) congratulating you on winning a big prize. To claim that prize, it says, you need to send them money.

“That’s a red flag warning,” said Chris Irving, a PCH assistant vice president. “If anybody asks you to send money to collect a prize, you know it’s a scam and it’s not from the real Publishers Clearing House. At Publishers Clearing House or any legitimate sweepstakes, the winning is always free — no purchase, no payment, no taxes or customs to pay.”

The crooks also impersonate Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in some of their phony Messenger messages.

“They post a fake profile of Zuckerberg on Facebook,” Baker said. “Then they send you a message through the Facebook messenger system saying: ‘Hi this is Mark Zuckerberg. I’m delighted to be able to tell you that you have won the Facebook Lottery and here is the person you need to contact to get the money.’ ”

Take the bait and click the link, and you’ll be told to send money to claim your winnings. Of course, there is no Facebook Lottery and Zuckerberg is not sending prize notices to anyone.

In a recent story on social media scams, the New York Times reported it found 208 accounts that impersonated Zuckerberg or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on Facebook and Instagram. At least 51 of the impostor accounts, including 43 on Instagram, were lottery scams. (In 2012, Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion.)

Facebook says it’s working to stop the scammers who use its platform to trick people out of their money. In March, the company announced it was using new machine learning techniques that helped it detect more than a half-million accounts related to fraudulent activity.

“These ploys are not allowed on Facebook and we’re constantly working to better defend against them,” said Product Manager Scott Dickens. “While we block millions of fake accounts at registration every day, we still need to focus on the would-be scammers who manage to create accounts. Our new machine learning models are trained on previously confirmed scams to help detect new ones.”

The BBB report calls on Facebook and other social media platforms to make “additional efforts” to prevent fake profiles and to make it easier for users to contact them about fraud.

No, you didn’t win the Facebook Lottery — they don’t have one. Use these tips to avoid falling victim to a social media scam.

Powerball Lottery Scams and Advice

Most people want to win the Powerball lottery. Scammers know this and think it makes them an easy target. Sadly, this can too often be true. If you think you need help spotting the scams we’ve compiled this helpful guide.

Remember scams come in all types of communication; letters, Facebook and text messages, phone calls and the most popular – emails.

Spotting a Lottery Scam

The hallmarks of a scam are:

  • Communication you were not expecting either by phone, email or letter.
  • Communication from a strange email address that has no connection with a lottery.
  • Your name won’t appear in the communication. It’s usually ‘Dear Winner’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.
  • They say you have a short time limit in which to reply or else the prize will expire. While it’s true that all lotteries have a prize claim period, the time scammers give you is very short.
  • The explicit request of confidentiality – so you don’t tell anyone else who may become suspicious of the scam.
  • Written communication is riddled with poor grammar and spelling mistakes.
  • Citing you won a random draw.
  • An upfront request for bank details/handling fee.
  • The promise of a win you were not expecting.

Slamming the Scammers

More than a hundred people a week contact the Powerball’s operators asking about a scam/spam email they have received.

You should never ever:

  1. give away any details
  2. reply to the e-mail
  3. call them or call them back
  4. click on any link they may send you
  5. open any software they may send you
  6. download any attachments the email might have.

Popular Types of Lottery Scams

Phishing Scam

The only official emails sent out by Powerball’s operators come shortly after each draw is made which tell you the winning numbers and the jackpot amount. If you win playing online, you will also get a winning email from the online lottery service you used. If you receive any other emails related to lottery wins, especially on any other day than Wednesday or Saturday, it’s highly likely to be a phishing email. Ignore it, don’t click on any links and delete it.

Lottery Winner Scam

One common scam is to email unsuspecting recipients telling them that they have won a large Powerball prize. The email will tell you that you have to pay an upfront handling fee in order to claim your prize. You may even be sent a cheque that allows you to believe you would be reimbursed for that upfront cost.

To be clear, there is no lottery in the world that requires you to pay a handling fee in order to get your winnings.

However, any cheques sent to you will bounce, leaving you out of pocket by whatever amount you have paid out. This can be tens of thousands of dollars in the worst examples. There are plenty of stories over recent years detailing the victims of these scams.

Facebook Lottery Scams

Powerball does not give money away on Facebook and likely it never will. There are often links circulating on the social network, claiming to connect you to a page where you can claim free money. Don’t be fooled by these scams.

As with any other online scam, you shouldn’t be duped into thinking you’ll get something for free, as this is very rarely the case. Don’t click on any links without knowing what they are, and certainly don’t type your bank details into a web page unless you are expecting to make a purchase from an online retailer you trust.

Finally, if you have been contacted by scammers and you think you can identify them, report it to your local law enforcement, who can pass the case over to fraud investigators. You could help fight these scams and stop somebody else being scammed in the future.

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It's becoming more common for people to fall foul of a lottery scam. Learn about the various types of scams to make sure you don’t become a lottery scam victim.