Fraud Watch: Identifying the warning signs of lottery fraud

Posted at 4:00 PM, Sep 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-20 20:38:46-04

HELENA – The common “lottery scam” always begins in a similar way: Someone receives an unsolicited letter or email, telling them they won a large cash prize, and that they need to pay some money or provide bank account information to claim it.

“That is not how a legitimate lottery works,” said Jennifer McKee, communications manager for the Montana Lottery.

McKee says the state lottery is an excellent source of information if you receive a suspicious lottery message. They have identified several key warning signs of fraud:

  • A real lottery will never directly contact the winner. In fact, they won’t even know who the winner is – just the winning numbers and where the ticket was sold. The winner has to present a ticket in order to claim a prize.
  • A legitimate lottery will never ask you to pay taxes or other money upfront before getting your prize.
  • Lotteries in other countries are not allowed to operate in the U.S., so any message claiming to be from a foreign lottery will be a scam.
  • If you did not buy a ticket, you cannot win a lottery.

McKee said they have not seen scammers claiming to be from the Montana Lottery itself, but there have been cases where they have imitated multi-state games offered in Montana, like Powerball or Mega Millions.

“That is when folks get the most confused,” she said.

But those games are only sold through legitimate state lotteries, and – like any other real lottery – they will not contact winners directly.

If you have any questions about whether something is legitimate, McKee says you can always ask the Montana Lottery.

“That is our most common call about a scam – not, ‘I think I’ve been scammed,’ but, ‘This looks suspicious, can you guys take a look at it?’” she said. “And I’ve never seen a suspicious one that wasn’t a scam.”

Both the Montana Lottery and the Montana Department of Justice’s Office of Consumer Protection have more information about lottery scams available on their websites.