Prize and contest scams

Which is fake?

Which of these emails is more obviously a fake lottery scam?
  • This one
  • This one

“Congratulations! You have just won a free holiday in sunny Mexico!”

Many are tempted by the excitement of a “free” prize or the possibility of winning a contest. But all too often those who play along learn the prize is fake or there are hidden charges to participate. Learn how to identify and guard against prize and contest scams.

Spot the scam

Scam 1. Fake lottery scams

You get a letter in the mail. “You have won a car!" All you have to do to claim the prize is pay a small admin fee. The organizers sound legitimate, a hospital foundation, but you’ve never heard of them. You pay the fee. But you never hear from them again. 

This is a fake lottery scam

Often, there is no prize at all. Even if you do receive a prize, it may not be what was promised to you.  

Among the ways these fake lottery scams try to get your money include the following:

  • You have to call a 1-900 phone number to find out what you’ve "won." You’re charged for that call. 

  • You have to give a chequing account number for "verification" purposes. With your bank account information, they make unauthorized withdrawals.

  • You have to provide your credit card number to cover the “shipping and handling fee” or “taxes” to process your winnings. This may be for just a small amount — $3 or $4. They want you to think, “It isn't much money, so why not risk it?” But now they have your credit card information. And they use it to make further unauthorized charges.

In fact, legitimate lotteries won’t require you to pay a fee or tax to collect winnings. 

As well, you can’t win money or a prize in a lottery unless you’ve entered it yourself, or someone else has entered it on your behalf. You can’t be chosen as a random winner if you haven’t entered the lottery.

Keep your banking information private

Never send money or provide banking details to anybody you don't know and trust. 

Scam 2. Text message trivia scams

“I got a text recently: ‘Tell us who won the Stanley Cup in 1915 — and you could win BIG!!’ I thought, ‘I know the answer! It’s the Vancouver Millionaires, the only time a Vancouver team has won.’ So I texted back. They kept sending hockey questions. I couldn’t resist answering. When I got my next bill, I had $150 in unexpected texting charges.”

– Bruce, North Vancouver, BC

A text message from a number you don’t recognize encourages you to take part in a trivia contest for a great prize. All you need to do is text back correct answers to a few questions. The first questions are easy, to encourage you to keep playing. To claim your “prize,” you’ll be asked a question that’s virtually impossible to answer correctly.

In these trivia scams, the scammers make money by charging extremely high rates for the messages you send and any further messages they send to you.  

Prevent problems

Step 1. Examine any offer carefully

Read the terms and conditions of any offer very carefully. Claims of “free” or very cheap offers often have hidden costs.

Be extremely cautious if you’re pressured to buy “on the spot” because the prize is available for a “limited time only.” 

Step 2. Don’t pay to participate 

Don't pay to enter a contest. Buying things won't increase your chances of winning.  

Don't call or text phone numbers beginning with 1-900 unless you’re aware of the costs involved.  

Be wary about responding to text messages or missed calls that come from numbers you don't recognize. 

Step 3. Protect your personal information

Never give your credit card number to someone who claims they will “deposit winnings” in your account. 

Who can help

If you've been scammed

Step-by-step guidance

If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, see our guidance on if you’ve been scammed. We walk you through the steps to take.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in July 2019
  • Time to read: 3 minutes

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