Vincent wants to know how he can tell the difference between real lotteries and scam lotteries. Easy: Real lotteries have winners.
OK, that's true, but it's not a full answer. And Vincent raises a legitimate issue: How can consumers protect themselves from lottery rackets while still taking a chance on a legitimate windfall?
The Federal Trade Commission says it received almost 150,000 complaints last year about questionable lotteries, sweepstakes and prizes. You undoubtedly have gotten numerous emails that have raised red flags.
Typically, a notice will inform you that you've won some foreign lottery — a Canadian sweepstakes, for example — and all you need to do is provide some sensitive personal information to claim your prize. Or you have to pay taxes up front before your prize will be awarded.
Either way, these things are almost always scams, just as it's highly unlikely some African potentate wants to send you money. Trust me on that.
The FTC says you should back away any time a lottery or sweepstakes says you have to pay money to enter, or if "taxes" are due to claim your prize. Also, avoid any lottery that purports to be run by a foreign government. It's a ruse to make the pitch seem more official.
The agency warns that scammers "might pretend to be a company like Publishers Clearing House or Reader's Digest, which run legitimate sweepstakes. Look for signs of a scam, but if you're still unsure, contact the real companies to find out the truth."
Publishers Clearing House says that "if someone contacts you claiming to be from PCH and tells you that you've won a prize — then asks you to send a payment or money card in order to claim the prize — STOP! You have not heard from the real PCH."
That raises another point: What are your chances of winning the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes?
The company says it's awarded more than $315 million in prizes since the promotional sweepstakes began in 1967. It also says you don't have to buy any of the magazine subscriptions or other merchandise it's hawking.
As for your odds of winning, well, they're not great.
Publishers Clearing House has said your chances of winning a top prize such as $7,000 a week for life are "in the hundreds of millions." Other estimates place your odds at 1 in 1.7 billion.
To put that in perspective, your odds of winning the