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Scam Alert

Lottery Rip-offs: When Winning Means Losing

Here's 10 ways to spot a lottery scam

4. Beware of regional rip-offs, too. Scammers sometimes set up phony state lottery websites (find real state lotteries at this webpage). The latest spin: county-themed cons, like one recently targeting seniors and veterans and purporting to be from San Diego County in California.

5. The $7,000-a-week-for-life prize in the popular Publishers Clearing House contest will be announced Nov. 26, and mailings for 2014 will follow months later. So prepare for a new season of scams claiming you've won the PCH.

6. Duped once? You'll be targeted again, maybe right away. If you send upfront fees for a contest, expect to be hounded for additional fees to claim that same nonexistent prize. It may be touted as a larger jackpot than originally promised. And your name will likely find its way onto scammer-shared "sucker lists" that detail names, contact info and even specific pitches that victims fall for, for use in future fake winning notifications.

7. Clues to a sweepstakes swindle are often in the fine-print "rules." It's a sure scam if any of the following required info is missing: start and end dates; judging date; methods of entry including judging criteria; type of proof of purchase required; description of prizes and approximate retail values; legal disclaimers; and sponsor's name and address. Even with these included, it's wise to do an online check of the contest name before entering.

8. If a "skill" contest seems too easy, it may be a scam. Likely the real purpose is to collect entry fees and personal information. Legit contests only ask for your name, address, email or phone number. It's identity thieves who seek more sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers and driver's license and bank account numbers.

9. Told you're "guaranteed" to win something? Another scam, since that claim is usually illegal. The same applies to simulated checks or items of value in sweepstakes or skill contests that don't prominently bear the words "SPECIMEN" or "NON-NEGOTIABLE."

10. Threatened with violence or arrest if you don't pay upfront fees? That's the calling card of Jamaican scammers, who've made up to 30,000 phone calls per day to American lottery "winners." They rely on sucker lists for your name. They call saying they're at a public place near your house and are coming to rough you up (they find out about that place through online maps). Incoming calls with area code 876 indicate they're still in their homeland, though — too far for a beating or to apply handcuffs.

Sid Kirchheimer, the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, writes about consumer and health affairs.

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