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Sweepstakes & Lotteries

You may get a telephone call, email or letter telling you that you’ve won a foreign lottery, or urging you to apply for a sweepstakes because you’re already a finalist. Before you start thinking about how to spend your winnings, read these tips to avoid a scam.


  • Be skeptical. If someone tells you that you’ve won a prize or contest you don’t remember entering, it’s probably a scam.
  • Never send money to anyone who says you’ve won a prize. This includes people you’ve exchanged emails or letters with, as well as telemarketers. It’s illegal to have to pay anything upfront to win a prize. Any prize that requires you to send money to cover taxes or other costs first is a scam. Don’t be fooled if they include a check to cover taxes and fees. The check is fake.
  • Protect your personal information. Never give out your Social Security number, bank account or credit card number in order to win a prize.
  • It’s illegal to offer lottery tickets over the phone or through the mail. Telemarketers who pitch lottery tickets are trying to cheat you.
  • Buying something does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes offers may make it sound like you have to buy something in order to win, but you don’t. You have an equal chance of winning whether you buy anything or not.
  • Read the fine print. Don’t let words like “finalist” or “congratulations” fool you. Read the entire mailing, including any fine print that may include conditions or qualifications. If you’re unsure what the wording means or if it sounds too good to be true, run it by a friend or family member, or check with the Attorney General’s Office.
  • Check the postage. “Bulk rate” or “presorted first class” means the mailing has gone to hundreds of people, even if it tells you you’re a finalist or specially selected to win a prize.
  • Look at the odds of winning. If you read that “awards and odds are: $15,000 (1:4,000,000),” that means your odds of winning are 1 in 4 million. That means your chances of winning are very, very slim, just like everyone else’s.
  • Watch out for senior friends and relatives. Lottery and sweepstakes scams often target seniors. Getting lots of lottery calls or sweepstakes mailings can be a sign that someone has become a victim because mailing and call lists are often sold to other solicitors. Frequent trips to wire money can also be a sign that someone has been scammed.

To cut down on sweepstakes and lottery offers:

  • Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry  to cut down on telemarketing calls. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll know that any telemarketer who calls is probably out to scam you.
  • Don’t enter any sweepstakes or buy anything through a sweepstakes.
  • If you get a sweepstakes mailing, write to the company and ask to be put on it’s “do not contact list.”
  • Have your name taken off of mail marketing lists. Write to: Direct Marketing Association Mail Preference Service, PO Box 64, Carmel, NY 10512
  • Use a spam filter to cut down on phony emails about sweepstakes and lottery prizes.

We Can Help

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a sweepstakes or lottery scam, contact us for help or call toll free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

For more about dodging sweepstakes and lottery scammers, watch Dialing for Dollars, an excerpt from our consumer protection video Standing Up, Fighting Back.