There are a lot of good reasons not to play the lottery.
First, your odds of winning are hundreds of million to one.
Second, most winners end up financially and emotionally broke, as friends, con artists, relatives, and a lack of experience managing such a large windfall all conspire to wear you down and steal your peace.
Do these reasons mean that playing the lottery is a scam?
In a sense, yes.
But a couple of bucks here-or-there? That’s probably not going to impact your financial situation.
I’ll tell you what will: The amount spent each year on the lottery averages out to be over $1,000 per person in the United States.1 And so when you consider that tens of millions of people don’t play the lottery, that means that those who do likely spend several thousand each year on this impossible dream.
Then multiply $4,000 by 20 years…
That said, at least with the lottery, you’re making a choice. You’re gambling and a lot of people enjoy that exercise.
The fact is, in the digital age, my biggest concern isn’t the lottery, it’s scams. Not only do I know people who have lost a lot of money to scammers, I have family members who have been taken for thousands.
It’s huge business. And these criminals are sophisticated, relentless, and omnipresent.
Here are 4 basic signs you are being scammed.
Crooks pretend to be from an entity that you already know
There are limitless types of scams out there, but one that obviously works (as virtually everyone I know has been probed) has to do with the scammer pretending to be calling on behalf of the government. They could pretend to be representatives from the IRS, Medicare, or the Social Security Administration.
Popular non-governmental scammers use charities or the lottery as fronts.
Just remember, these government entities will never call you out of the blue.
Phone scammers tell you it’s an emergency
Scammers play on fear and ignorance. This means they will say things such as you're in trouble with the government, or someone in your family is overseas and has been arrested or has a medical emergency.
They can sound extremely knowledgeable, and their persistence and practiced approach can leave you intimidated and convinced.
Other scammers will tell you that you have a problem with a credit card, or your Amazon account, and that you need to verify personal information so they can secure your account before the bad guys steal you blind. And still others will tell you that to collect a prize that you’ve won, you must pay shipping costs.
They pressure you to act fast
Not unlike a mugger who steps out of the shadows and is upon you before you realize what is happening, scammers want to force you to act before you have time to think.
Lots of people who’ve been ripped off online or via phone are known to later say, “Now that I’ve had time to think about it, of course it was a scam.”
But these virtual muggers are crafty, they are slick, they are hitting up thousands of people a week, and they know human weakness.
Another big advantage that scammers have over people like you and me is that we don’t think like they do. We’re honest, so we think others are, too.
Scammers may threaten you with arrest, a lawsuit, deportation, or tell you that your computer has been compromised and they need your passwords to fix it.
They insist there is only one or two ways you can pay
Virtually any caller who insists you immediately run down to Western Union and wire money is a scammer.
Other signs it’s a scam include the insistence you load money on a gift card.
How can you help protect yourself from a scam?
Officially, Americans lost $40 billion to phone scams last year. (And the actual number is probably twice that.)
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
Never click on a text link from an entity you don’t know or aren’t expecting, and never answer a call on your cell phone from an unfamiliar number (let them leave a message if it’s so important).
Even though the caller may know a few things about you, refuse to give out any personal information. No actual agency is ever going to call you and insist you provide your Social Security number, email, bank account info, or credit card info.
Never allow them to manipulate you into acting. Flat out refuse to succumb to the pressure being applied by the caller.
Conversely, if you feel certain that a relative has gotten into trouble in Brazil, or that you’ve won a prize, take a deep breath, talk to someone else about it, see what they say, and then conduct your due diligence (find out if your nephew Henry really is in San Paolo).
It’s a shame that there are so many bad actors in the world. While technology is supposed to make our lives better, the flipside is that it has been a boon to criminals, as they can use call centers from anywhere in the world to rob you right in your own living room.
You can’t stop them from trying, but what you can do is the equivalent of “stop, drop, and roll.”
When you get an unexpected call that involves threats, money, or the pressure to pay right away, take a step back, inhale, and think it through.
Think of the lottery. The odds that you won’t win are more than 99.99%.
Now, the next time you get a call that seems a little fishy, the odds are the exact opposite of winning the lottery: It’s 99.99% certain you are being scammed.