Lotteries and premium rate scams

Many lotteries and competitions are genuine, and are run by large and reputable organisations or charities. But some types of lotteries, sweep stakes or prize draws could turn out to be scams that rip you off.

Scammers might contact you by phone, letter, text, email, online or face-to-face. They tell you that you have won a fantastic prize – but the small print tells a different story.

What to watch out for

You should always be on your guard if you have been told you have won something and there are tell-tale signs such as:

  • You have to make a payment or a phone call to claim your prize
  • The company only gives a PO box number and no geographical address, making it very hard to contact them
  • The letter contains what looks like a cheque for millions, but it’s stamped “SAMPLE CHEQUE ONLY” or “not legal tender”
  • You are told that it has taken a long time to contact you and this is a final notice of an “urgent prize payment”
  • You know other people who have been sent exactly the same letter or email
  • To claim your prize you have to pay a fee, or go along to a seminar, or a sales presentation. It ends up costing you a lot of time and money, and it turns out that the prize isn’t really a prize at all.

Premium rate calls and texts

Premium rate telephone scams are also very common – all Irish premium rate numbers begin with 15. These types of schemes make money from the expensive calls and texts people make.

They might start with a letter or text message, or a scratch card in a magazine which tells you that you have won a major prize. Whatever form the scam takes, the message will tell you to ring or text a telephone number to claim your prize.

You ring the number and after listening to a recorded message, it turns out that:

  • There isn’t really a prize or
  • The prize turns out to be a near worthless book of discount vouchers or
  • It’s a holiday voucher with lots of restrictions attached
  • You have to go to a “prize centre” to collect it and the prize turns out to be worth less than the cost of the phone call
  • In each case, the call is charged at an expensive premium rate

Or you might end up sending a text to a premium rate text number, unknowingly signing up to a subscription service which costs you a lot of money weekly. These can be difficult to unsubscribe from.

How to protect yourself

Before doing anything you should stop, think twice and be very sceptical.

The best way to avoid these scams is to say “No”. Even if the offer sounds good, say “No” first, then you can check it out yourself and see if it is genuine.

In particular, be aware of the following:

  • If you didn’t buy a ticket, how could you win?
  • If you really did win, then why are they asking you for money?
  • How did the person get your name and address?
  • Why do you have to call a premium rate telephone number?
  • Carefully read the small print on the material they send you
  • Never give your credit card or bank account details in response to something like this
  • If you have paid money already and now regret it, write to the company stating that you want a full refund. If you have paid by credit or debit card, contact your card issuer about a chargeback.

Who to contact

  • You should contact your local Garda station if you have been the victim of any scam
  • To complain about a company that uses a premium rate number, visit ComReg’s website. ComReg regulates premium rate services in Ireland
  • If the scam appears to be coming from elsewhere in the EU, contact the European Consumer Centre Ireland
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