Here's what you need to know about state lottery scams:
- If you didn't buy a lottery ticket from an authorized vendor, you didn't win, plain and simple.
- No legitimate lottery will ever contact you with news of a win; it's your responsibility to step forward with the winning ticket in hand.
- You never have to pay upfront fees of any kind to claim a legitimate state lottery payout.
- Never believe claims of a guaranteed prize. Legitimate lotteries make no guarantees of winning.
- Be suspicious of anyone who approaches you offering to sell what's described as a winning lottery ticket. Often the excuse is that the person is in this country illegally and doesn't dare redeem it personally. It's all a lie, of course. This ruse is especially common in Florida and has claimed many older victims.
- Check winning numbers with your state lottery website or through media reports.
- Be alert to shady retailers who pilfer winning tickets brought in for redemption. They scan the ticket, claim you didn't win (or got just a small amount) and then pocket the ticket. You can protect against this by immediately signing your name to the ticket when you buy it, meaning the retailer can't sign it.
- If you have the good luck to hold a ticket with a big payout, don't go to the retailer — notify the state lottery office.
- If you wonder about a lottery notification, go to the website of the nonprofit group Fraud Aid to check its list of known phony lottery games. New ones are always emerging, but if your alleged jackpot is from one on the list, you can be sure it's a scam. Report suspicious winning notifications to your state lottery office and attorney general.
Also of interest: Sweepstakes "winners" become big losers. >>
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.