BBB Warns of Increase in Sweepstakes and Foreign Lottery Scams

Scammers often prey on someone’s hope and desire to win something that is too good to be true.
May 01, 2014

Your Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers about a recent increase in sweepstakes and foreign lottery scams being reported. These scams range from letters that allege millions of dollars have been won, to foreign lottery schemes and phone calls claiming that a $100 gift card is “free” in exchange for payment to cover shipping costs.

“BBB urges people to verify the legitimacy of any supposed winnings, and know that you should never have to pay to receive something you have actually won,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “It is a common tactic for scammers to request money be sent via wire transfer or prepaid debit card to cover taxes, shipping and other fees before a prize payout can be sent. Another tactic is for the scammer to claim they want to deposit a check into a bank account, requiring your routing number and bank account information.”

A recent inquiry to BBB questioned a sweepstakes letter supposedly sent from Publishers Clearing House, claiming the recipient won a grand prize of $2,600,000. However, payout was to go to their preferred bank account. According to the Publishers Clearing House website, major prize winners are only notified live and in person by the Prize Patrol. Publishers Clearing House also does not ask for bank account information and prizes are delivered free of charge to winners.

BBB provides the following tips to avoid scams claiming you have won something:

  • You can't win a contest you didn't enter: You need to buy a ticket or complete an application to participate in a contest or lottery. Be very cautious if you have been selected as a winner for a contest you never entered.

  • Verify - but not by using a source scammers give you. Check if an offer is real, but don't use contact information provided in the letter or email you suspect may be a scam. If it is a con, chances are the person on the other line or receiving end of that email address will be involved too.

  • Don't pay to claim your prize: You should never have to pay money or buy products in order to receive a prize. Be especially wary of wiring money or using a prepaid debit card. Keep in mind that it is not the prize promoter’s responsibility to charge you for tax; they should report your winnings to the Internal Revenue Service and the IRS will bill you for the appropriate taxes.

  • The only legal lotteries in the United States are the official state-run lotteries. You are violating federal law by playing a foreign lottery.   

Scammers often prey on someone’s hope and desire to win something that is too good to be true. If you believe that you have been a victim of a lottery or sweepstakes scam, contact your Better Business Bureau to report a scam or file a complaint.


About the BBB System

BBB is an unbiased organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews and BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 113 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than 4.5 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit for more information about the BBB System.