In 2022, 68.4 million Americans reportedly lost money to phone scams. Fraudulent activities instigated via phones have been rising steadily over the years. They can target anyone, regardless of age, gender, education, and social status—all the more reason to remain vigilant and mind your safety.
One of the popular and successful call scams making the rounds is fraudulent prizes, lotteries, and sweepstakes. It ranks among the top five most common frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission. In this article, we explore what it is about and the steps you can take to tackle it effectively.
You Have Won a Prize!: The Hidden Dangers of Call Scams
Finding out you have won a large sum of money or a trip to an exotic destination can send you into an instant state of euphoria. Remember, the human brain functions differently when you are faced with good fortunes.
A sudden rush of dopamine can make you profoundly optimistic and hopeful. It is when you are less likely to become suspicious or anticipate danger. This is why racketeers consistently use unexpected good news to mislead unsuspecting victims.
Lotteries, sweepstakes, and other competitions, in particular, have been long used to manipulate innocent citizens. But how exactly do they work?
They typically involve a call from someone who declares you have won an attractive prize. However, there is a condition—it is only valid for a limited period, and you need to claim it straightaway before the deadline expires.
To claim your winning, you must make a payment to an account the caller provides. You are told it is mandatory to process your prize and pay related taxes. But as soon as you make the transfer, the caller stops all communications.
This is the most common form of you-have-won scams victims have encountered. However, several other variations have been reported, too.
For instance, instead of asking you to send them money, scammers may request your bank details under the guise of transferring what you have won to your account.
They can also collect your personal information, such as your home address, date of birth, social security number, and tax ID, claiming to verify your identity.
These are all different forms of identity theft, which can eventually lead to financial fraud and other crimes.
You-Have-Won Scams: Here’s How to Tackle Them
Let’s say you receive a call announcing an unexpected prize-winning. You are unsure whether it is genuine or part of a fraudulent racket. What should you do?
- Note down the name of the caller and the organization they represent. Ask questions to gather as much information as possible and pay attention to detail. For instance, inquire when you have entered the lottery or competition. Also, take note of whether they already know your first and last names or seem unaware of who you are.
- Avoid the temptation to act in haste. Never agree to transfer money or share personal information until you verify the call’s authenticity.
- Let the caller know that you will contact them and end the call.
- Try to remember whether you have purchased a lottery ticket or entered a competition during the mentioned dates. Go through your wallet to find any receipts, and check your emails for confirmation. Be cautious if you have no recollection of taking part in such a program.
- Research the organization online to learn more about their lottery or sweepstakes program. Check if the entry requirements, winning dates, and winner’s information match what the caller has shared with you.
- Use PhoneHistory to find the registered owner of the number the caller has used to contact you. Look for any discrepancies in name, location, and company.
- Find an official number for the organization hosting the lottery or competition and reach out to them to verify the call. If they are unaware of someone contacting you from their end, you have likely encountered an imposter.
- If all signs point to a scam, report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. Ensure you submit any evidence you may have, including copies of your call history and voice recordings.
Protecting Yourself From Call Fraud
Certain essential measures can help you avoid prize, lottery, and sweepstakes scams and strengthen your overall phone safety to minimize threats.
- Educate yourself about call fraud.
Keeping yourself informed of the latest fraud trends is critical for detecting racketeers before it is too late. Unexpected calls, requests for money via untraceable payment options, pressure to act, and vague information are common warning signs of phone scams.
- Keep your personal information safe.
Set your social media settings to private mode and think twice before posting identifiable details that could compromise your safety.
If you need to share your phone number online for work reasons, use a secondary number to prevent malicious individuals from accessing your personal one.
Also, avoid online accounts, apps, memberships, loyalty programs, newsletters, and free giveaways that require personal information.
- Install a caller ID app
These mobile applications can identify unsaved numbers by scanning them against phone databases. Some may even warn you of spam and scam callers based on phone numbers their app users have flagged.
- Block unwanted calls
If you receive spam- or scam-related calls, block them immediately to prevent unsolicited callers from reaching you again.
- Register your phone number with the Do Not Call Registry
The Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry can help remove your contact number from telemarketing call lists.
- Trust your instinct
If something seems off, it likely is. For instance, be suspicious if the prize looks too good to be real or if you have no recollection of entering a lottery or sweepstakes program. Rely on your gut instinct for guidance without letting emotions cloud your decisions.
You-have-won call scams are exceedingly common and often target victims for identity theft and financial fraud. So, remaining vigilant and practicing caution is essential when someone calls you, claiming you have won a prize.
Follow the verification techniques outlined in this article before responding to such callers. In addition, take necessary safety precautions to avoid and minimize phone scam threats.