Prize and Contest Scams

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School in March 2017.

"Congratulations! You have just won a free holiday in sunny Mexico!" Tempting, no doubt. But all too often, offers of a "free" prize turn out to be scams.

Fake lottery scams

You get a letter in the mail. "You have won a car!" In order to secure your prize, all you have to do is send a fee to claim the prize. 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.  

In fact, legitimate lotteries do not require you to pay a fee or tax to collect winnings.

As well, 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. You cannot be chosen as a random winner if you haven’t entered the lottery.

Text message trivia scams

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. You’re encouraged to keep playing. To claim your "prize", you’re asked a question that is 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.  

Preventing problems

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Here are ways to reduce the risk of being the victim of a prize or contest scam.

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.

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 are aware of the costs involved.  

Protect your personal information

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

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