According to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), many people find themselves becoming scam victims, thanks to the excitement of a surprise win or to claim prizes from fake lotteries, sweepstakes or contests. You may receive a phone call, an e-mail, a text message, or see a pop-up screen on your computer. Sometimes, there are claims that the offer is legal or ‘has government approval’. Often there are costs involved with claiming your prize. Instead of receiving a grand prize or fortune, you could lose every cent that you send to a scammer. Even if you do receive a prize, it may not be what was promised to you. And, if you have provided other personal details, your identity information could be misused for other criminal means.
Prize fraud now ranks second highest in Canada in terms of the number of mass marketing fraud complaints, and fourth in terms of dollar losses reported by victims. In 2012, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 5,478 Canadian complaints of prize or lottery fraud. Of those, 833 people were victimized to the tune of more than $5.1-million. Police believe only five (5) per cent of victims actually report the crime.
“You cannot win money or a prize in a lottery unless you have entered it yourself, or someone else has entered it on your behalf,” says Deputy Commissioner Scott Tod, OPP Investigations and Organized Crime Command. “You cannot be chosen as a random winner if you haven’t actually entered.”
Canadians are also dishing out these schemes abroad. Based on total number of complaints, the “prize” type of scheme is the top Canadian-based mass marketing fraud reported by consumers in the United States.
“Many lottery scams try to trick you into providing your banking and personal details to claim your prize,” says Detective Inspector Paul Beesley, OPP Anti-Rackets Branch. “You should not have to pay any fee or tax to claim a legitimate prize.”
Members of the OPP Anti-Rackets Branch remind consumers you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of the lottery or prize scam:
- Legitimate lotteries do not require you to pay a fee or tax to collect winnings.
- Never send money to anybody you don’t know and trust.
- Don’t provide personal banking details to anyone that you do not know and trust.
- Examine all of the terms and conditions of any offer very carefully. Claims of free or very cheap offers often have hidden costs. Calls to premium rate phone numbers or premium text messages can be very expensive.
- Ask yourself, “Did I willingly enter this contest?“
If you or someone you know have been approached to pay a fee to claim a lottery or other type of prize, contact your local police service or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).