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Prize alert vs scam: How to spot the difference

Compilation image of $100 notes wrapped up with a bow and a scam alert under ripped paper.
Companies with legitimate winners are finding it difficult to convince their recipients that it's not a scam. (Source: Getty) (Samantha Menzies)

We’ve all received the texts and emails at some point. Our long lost uncle has left us $8 million that can only be claimed at some sketchy link. Or we’ve been selected as the winner of the new iPhone. Or your lotto numbers came up and you’ve got $100,000 in unclaimed winnings.

More often than not, we sweep these messages into our deleted folder, momentarily daydream about how cool it would be to genuinely have a long lost uncle leave us his fortune, and then get on with our lives safe in the knowledge we’ve swerved a scam.

But what about when it’s not a scam? Are these prize alerts ever legit? And what happens if you’re genuinely a winner?

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Also by Emma Edwards:

A recent viral news story told of a lotto winner who’s unanswered phone calls meant their $50 million powerball win remained unclaimed. The horror!

Hang on a minute. I’m a millennial. We don’t answer phone calls. In fact I screen multiple calls a week. Am I unknowingly missing out on a genuine prize?!

I decided to ask people who have won competitions for real how they were notified and how they knew it was legit.

I even tracked down some competition issuers to talk about how scams interfere with their process of notifying genuine winners.

“We had to reassure them multiple times that it wasn’t a scam”

A member of my community on Instagram who contacted competition winners as part of their job role explained that convincing winners that their windfall was genuine was becoming increasingly difficult.

Winners have become very untrusting of prize communications, and often it takes emails with a company letterhead and physical evidence of the prizes to convince people it was the real deal.

Speaking to competition winners themselves who have been on the receiving end of genuine prize alerts and had to navigate their own concerns over being scammed, I picked up three tips on how to spot a real prize.

1. Look out for genuine emails from company domains

Many competition winners reported being contacted by email first. The email would be from a genuine company domain and be signed off from a company employee with an email signature.

It can help to cross reference email addresses with the company website – for example if you win a prize from ABC Hotel, check the email that’s displayed on the company website. Is it @abchotels.com or @abchotelgroup.com? Just because a domain looks legitimate, doesn’t mean it is.

2. Don’t click links – contact the company directly

Competition winners suggested contacting the company manually via their website, phone or social media to try and speak to the competition issuing team to verify the prize. It also helps to be discerning over what’s being asked of you in order to claim your prize.

Genuine competitions don’t generally ask you to click links, or to provide too much personal information, though it does depend on what the prize is.

Think carefully about what information you’re being asked to provide and how reasonable that is. Being asked for your bank account details and passport number if you’ve won a muesli bar should be a signal that something’s not quite right.

3. Keep track of any competitions you’ve entered

I rarely enter competitions, so I’m not usually expecting a prize alert to be genuine. But if you do enter any, keep a record of the competition and the details. Often the fine print will state how prize winners will be notified and when, which may help you identify when you’ve really hit the jackpot.

Stay up to date with scam alerts or report scams you’ve seen to Scamwatch. If you’ve been the victim of a scam, contact your bank or financial institution immediately to limit access to your accounts.

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