For one Florida woman, her holiday season wasn’t filled with cheer. Instead, what started as a happy surprise ultimately cost her $11,000 in a lottery scam.
With the Powerball jackpot inching closer to the $1 billion mark, which sends most Florida Lottery players into a frenzy, Floridians should be looking for similar grifts.
In late December, the Mega Millions jackpot was inching closer to its mid-January peak of $1.35 billion. It was the fourth-largest jackpot in U.S. lottery history and was right around when the hustle came to light.
A man who went by the alias of “Mr. Woodman” contacted Floridian Diana Izurieta by text. Woodman claimed to represent a Gilbert, Arizona couple wanting to give away their substantial Powerball winnings. He told Izurieta she would receive $90,000 as part of the couple’s generosity.
The only problem? Woodman targeted her in a scam. The last name was almost certainly an alias for the scammer.
There was an Arizona couple who won $474,000 in Powerball prize money. But they remained anonymous and had shown no discernible intention of giving away any of their money.
Scam in action
Woodman told the unwitting Florida victim she was chosen as one of the 50 recipients of the couple’s largesse. Consequently, he asked for transfer fees, taxes, and even credit card numbers.
“They’re like, ‘You got to pay, it doesn’t matter how. Borrow money,'” Izurieta said.
Woodman said Izuerieta would receive reimbursement once the couple received their payout. However, that was a lie.
Five months passed and Izurieta hadn’t received a dime. Furthermore, she lost the $11,000 she sent to Woodman.
“I just want to put his ass in jail,” Izurieta told Arizona media outlets in December.
Prime scam season
As potential winnings increase, so does the likelihood of becoming the target of a scam. On the eve of the second-largest Mega Millions jackpot ever, the Communications Manager for the Colorado Lottery Meghan Dougherty said as much.
“There is always an increase in fraud attempts during high jackpots,” said Dougherty.
Since big Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots are prime for scammers, Mega Millions released a statement reminding players that nobody from their organization would make contact over prize money.
“No representative of Mega Millions would ever call, text or email anyone about winning a prize,” the company said in a statement.
Powerball also released a similar statement saying they wouldn’t be contacting drawing winners. Impersonating lottery officials is also a common way to swindle lottery players out of their money.
Last April, Mega Millions said people were getting duped by phone calls and WhatsApp messages notifying them they won money. Or even cars. Some of the victims didn’t even enter a lottery recently.
Communications Director of the Florida Lottery, Michele Griner, told PlayFL that the only time the state lottery might contact anyone is to let an identified winner know that a press member wants to interview them. Otherwise, the organization would never give out the winner’s personal contact information.
Griner also said that the most common scams were phone calls from people impersonating Mega Millions employees.
It’s worth mentioning that even the Lottery itself doesn’t know who purchased the tickets. Therefore, they couldn’t contact anyone to notify them of a win. Winners have to self-identify and claim their prizes themselves.
The Colorado Lottery took it further and warned against clicking links in emails if you’re not certain it’s the actual state lottery agency.
Warning: Lottery Scam ahead
A scammer’s objective is to trick you into sending them money or giving them your personal information. The Federal Trade Commission lists two of the top warning signs of a prize scam as:
- You have to pay to get your prize
- Real prizes come free, the FTC stressed. There shouldn’t be any taxes, processing fees or such involved. And scammers often request untraceable forms of payment. Those include wired money, cash or gift cards. The Better Business Bureau cautions that no legitimate lottery will ever ask for any of these.
- You have to give your financial information
- Claiming a lottery prize never involves giving your bank account or credit card numbers. If someone asks for either of those details, it’s likely a scam.
Other warning signs include:
- The scammer wants to share a jackpot they won
- Scammers offer lottery tickets at discount prices. Those tickets should be fake.
- Scammers send you a fake check and require money to cover expenses.
- Claims they are from a fake organization, using invented names. These names won’t be incredibly obvious. Moreover, it might vary just slightly from that of a real lottery or organization.
These schemes don’t always have to come from the phone either. Scammers began targeting people on Instagram, unknown to the site itself. For protection, if you sign up with a state lottery Instagram site, put your settings on “private.”
The bottom line is the only money you should ever pay toward the lottery is the money you paid for your original tickets. Additionally, the FTC and Powerball emphasized that no legitimate reason exists for disclosing your personal information in exchange for a prize.
What to do if you suspect a scam?
Several options are at your disposal if you think you’re a scam victim.
- Contact your state’s, Attorney General
- Report it to your local consumer protection office
- Have the United States Postal service look into the mail
- If you think your personal information was compromised, go to IdentityTheft.gov
The FTC also advises that you tell your friends and family about getting scammed, so they don’t make the same mistakes that you did.
If you were ever scammed, there are some steps you can take to try and recover your money, or at least, minimize the damage.