While online contests can be very tempting because of the prizes offered (who wouldn't want to win a dream vacation?), they can also be fertile ground for cyber criminals because of the amount of information you include on the entry form.
If you trust your instincts and follow a few simple rules, you can protect yourself from fake contest scams. Here's how:
- On the entry form, only provide the minimum amount of personal information needed. It may not be a good idea to include your phone number or address, and never include banking and credit card information.
- If you enter a lot of contests, keep track of them – especially if you receive a notification saying you've won something. Did you really enter that contest?
- Always read the official rules and regulations.
Signs it's a scam
- Bad grammar and misspelled words. What reputable company would send out an email full of typos?
- You're asked for money up front to be eligible for a prize.
- Emails from "large corporations" are sent from a Hotmail or Gmail account. Legitimate companies don't use these accounts for business.
- You're pressured to "hurry!"
- Notification emails begin with "Dear Sir/Madam". If they don't know you by name, they're likely determined to find out.
- You've won!! Even though you haven't entered anything.
- You're told to call a 1-900 number to claim your prize. There is always a charge for calling a 1-900 number.
- Beware of online advertising banners that promise free gifts, services, or windfalls.
Still not sure? There's no harm in contacting the company directly to find out if the contest or sweepstakes is genuine.
Types of scams to watch for
- Poetry contest scams. These schemes tap into that desire for "15 minutes of fame". Enter a poetry contest and all you have to do is pay the fee to see your work in print. Funny thing is, everyone's a winner.
- Phony government recovery scams. Victims of previous illegal foreign sweepstakes schemes could be targets of another scam. They're told the government has won a lawsuit against the company that originally scammed them, but the catch is the victim must pay the legal fees and taxes in order to recover their money.
- Sweepstakes scams. These scams will often tell you you're a winner in order to get your attention. But before you're able to claim your prize, you must pay an "entitlement fee" to qualify. It may seem very exciting, but remember:
- You shouldn't have to pay for a prize.
- You shouldn't be asked to provide credit card or bank account numbers to be a winner of any contest.
What to do if you're the victim of a contest scam
If you think you're the victim of an online contest or sweepstakes scam, the most important thing is not to panic. By getting in touch with the proper authorities, you may help catch cyber criminals before they can scam anyone else.
Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre by going to www.antifraudcentre.ca or calling 1-888-495-8501.
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