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6 signs a 'YOU'VE WON!' email is a fake

Did you really win an iPad, or is the message from a scammer trying to steal your identity?

By MSN Money Partner Nov 2, 2011 9:22AM

This post comes from Linsey Knerl at partner blog Wise Bread.


I've written about my hobby of entering sweepstakes before, and like any worthwhile endeavor, there is always a downside. One of these, unfortunately, is the massive amounts of new email you will receive as you sign up for newsletters and give out your contact info for prize notification.


While fake prize emails can be sent to anyone, those who enter giveaways seem to be even more prone to receiving them. And while most of my newly sweeping friends have a bit of a learning curve in identifying the fakes from the real thing, they eventually master these six red flags that something isn't right. (See also: "Sweeping 101.")


You don't remember entering. Even with the thousands upon thousands of sweepstakes I've entered over the past 14 years, I have a mild recollection of most of them. If I were to receive an email saying that I won dinners for a year from a local eatery, it would ring a bell, and I'd likely get excited. If some random company tells me that I won a questionable amount of cash in a promotion I don't remember, however, I would take a minute to examine it more carefully.


Not sure if you entered or not? Do a search for the promotion name, company and prize to see what you find. Most likely, if it is a legit sweep, it was listed on several sites that prize winners frequent.


The company is huge. While companies Pepsi, Yahoo and Google do hold many giveaways, they rarely handle their own correspondence. If you get an email from Yahoo itself claiming to have picked your name to get a free iPad, for example, see:

  • If you remember entering.
  • If the email is signed by a fulfillment company. If the email is signed by a PR company, it's more likely real than if it's signed by Yahoo's CEO.

Again, you can do an online search to get the info for the company that is handling prize fulfillment for the sweepstakes you are wondering about. Major sweepstakes are most often run by companies whose sole function is to manage sweepstakes.


The word "lotto" is used. Seriously, do you even play the lottery? If you get an email from a foreign country with the happy announcement that you've won a "lotto" prize, it's not legit. Lotteries take money to play and, as far as I know, they never notify people via an ambiguous email. Other sneaky terms to beware of include "grant award" and any mention of an international fund. Post continues below.

The email went out to everyone. Check the "to" field in your email. Do you find your email alongside a dozen or more other email addresses within the same alphabetical range as yours? Bad news: You're on a spam email list. Someone is sending this same email out to thousands of unsuspecting email account holders hoping someone will bite. Delete this one without question.


Whatever you do, do not reply or attempt to unsubscribe from any email that has dozens of addresses. This will only confirm to the spammer that the email is valid, encouraging them to send even more junk your way. (See also: "Eliminate junk mail with the click of a button.")


Hyperlinks are fishy. Most fake emails trying to access your info (also known as phishing emails) will try to get you to either click on a link within the body of the email, or reply to a particular email. The destination, at first glance, may seem legit ("Please check out xyz company to get your prize!"). By placing your mouse over the hyperlink and not clicking on it, however, you can see where the link is directed to go. If this is anything but the address in the email, run! These are clever ruses designed to get you to sites you would never visit. Don't do them the honor.


Do a quick link check of all URLs in the body and at the bottom of the email. PayPal scams, for example, often look a lot like an official PayPal email, but the hyperlinks within the text all direct to scam sites designed to get your sensitive information.


You were asked to send money. This one is quick and easy to master. Don't pay shipping fees, processing fees, or award fees for your prize. A prize is a prize, after all, not something you ordered.


Beware of anyone claiming that you have to pay taxes upfront for any prize. The IRS handles income tax, and your local treasurer handles motor vehicle and boat taxes. Let them do their jobs, and leave the scammers wishing you weren't so smart.


More on Wise Bread and MSN Money:

I only open emails from people or companys I know. I've had a computer since "Prince Albert Gore" invented the internet.
Nov 3, 2011 10:11AM
I am sorry that people have been trying to scam all of you but I appear to have actually hit the mother lode because of an email I received. I'm meeting a man from Nigeria today in a questionable part of town but he's giving me a trunk filled with millions of dollars so I'm sure it will be worth it! I've already quit my job and am looking forward to a life of leisure with my newfound wealth. I'm not exactly sure why he had me empty my bank accounts so I can bring all my cash with me when I meet him or why he insisted that I come alone but I'm sure he has his reasons. I'm not too worried though because I know he's honest. He has to be. He's with the FBI.
Nov 2, 2011 9:57PM

And we really need to have a news story like this, I mean come on - REALLY ?  I guess there actually are people out there gullible enough to believe they are the only person on the face of the earth - and their name was selected from . . .  - WHERE ???


AWWW crap!!!  I forgot - I know people like this.  

Nov 2, 2011 10:23PM
I love 'em. I have played with some of these scammers as high as 5 months. Usually Western Union, some bank in Nigeria, some senator from Uganda, and a Dr. from the UK. I get photos of old ladies dying in some remote hospital, women in refugee compounds, sponsored by some Doctor in Brazil, and yes.....the lotteries, and the trunks left in the offices of various carriers somewhere in Africa. If I had the millions of dollars I have won, or have inherited over the past 6 would be enough to pay off the entire debt of the U.S. Government. I have several letters from the FBI telling me that I must send the money (Fees) in order to collect my winnings. Then there's the poor widow somewhere in Zambia whose General husband has left her his cache of money in a bank somewhere in England. However, she needs the money to get it released, and god willing if I help her, she will in turn split the proceeds with me. Alway's in the millions. However, I must agree to give most of it to needy children in refugee camps in Mogadishi. I'm a billionaire, and haven't realized it yet!
Nov 2, 2011 8:49PM
I have an easier way to determine whether a "YOU'VE WON!!!" email is a fake.  If I get a "YOU'VE WON!!!" something email in my inbox, I know it's a FAKE !
Nov 2, 2011 8:09PM
I don't want to and please take my name off
Nov 3, 2011 2:04AM

I just received an e-mail today that reads this: "Ticket Number: 25515600DS
You email address have won A car and £750,000. For more information, contact Mr. David Hill"

Oh wow! I won a BMW car and cash money! That would be a waste of time going there after finding out that there's no car and cash there waiting for me in Great Britain. DRATS! Crying  I might get kidnapped instead or could I be in a slammer with Benny Hill???

Nov 3, 2011 12:12PM
Thanks for all the comments.  I am the author of this article, and the reason I wrote it is simple:  Many people DO enter online sweepstakes and giveaways, and the winning notification for such promotions WILL come via email.  To say that a legitimate winning notification would only come via certified mail is not accurate.  I won both an iPad 2 and a large LED TV this year from promotions I entered online, and I was notified via email (and one came to my junk folder.)   If you don't enter online promotions, than this article won't apply to you.  I do coach people on entering to win giveaways, however, and this is one of the number one things that comes up after they start.  To be able to distinguish between the real and fakes is important.  Also, elderly people who do not enter giveaways but who are new to email do often need help in the discernment of these types of messages.  They are not stupid, just new to the world of online communication.

To the gal who asked about Publisher's Clearinghouse:

The giveaways from PC are real, but you need to think of the emails you are receiving as the equivalent to the junk mail you used to receive from them via the USPS.  If you are indeed entering their sweepstakes online, and you win, you will likely get a phone call or email with explicit instructions on how to claim your prize, along with contact info for your contact at the promotions department.  It is likely that you will also receive something via express delivery.  Most of the emails from them, however, are just spam designed to get you to sign up for offers that make them money.  Everyone receives them, even those who have never officially "entered" their promotions.

I would be happy to answer any other questions anyone may have.

Thanks again!
You are not that damn lucky!!, everything is a fake, never heard of a real one in your email box, and if they want information, they should have it if you won. If they want money let them take it out of the winnings.
Nov 3, 2011 8:21AM

You are the lucky ones.  I received a kind letter from Nigeria that I had died and left a large sum of money.  That was both good news and bad news.  Or maybe it was the other way around.  But, I was neither dead nor rich and I kept this letter and framed it.  After all, how

many people get their own "dead man walking" spam.

Nov 2, 2011 7:36PM

And the number one sign that you won, or lottery, or inheritance email is a fake.........Crying





*extended drum roll*Note





You received the friggen thing in the first place...Thumbs up

Nov 3, 2011 8:56AM

Do people really need these cues to recognize phishing emails?  I mean, c'mon!  If it went straight to your junk folder, odds are it is phish!


Nov 2, 2011 7:18PM
you should be able to sue these scam artists n win money that they claimed they wouldve given u anywayz. like n the multi-millions
Nov 3, 2011 12:40AM
My favorite is the one I get every couple of weeks from the FBI telling me that if I DON'T claim my prize, they will arrest me.  Apparently, by not claiming it, it proves I am clearly involved in some sort of money laundering scheme.  I would assume by now I surely must be on the FBI's 10 most wanted.  Guess I'll just have to send them all my info...
Nov 2, 2011 8:08PM
Please take my name off..    thank you
Nov 2, 2011 7:59PM

if it sounds to good to be true then it's most likely a scam

Nov 2, 2011 8:08PM
Don't tell me those enlargement e-mails are fake too.Embarrassed
Nov 3, 2011 4:42PM
WAHOO!! I'm rich! Rich I say!! I'll never work again!! The FBI guy from Nigeria WAS telling the truth!  He actually showed up with the trunk full of money for me exactly like he said he would! He didn't even want any of the cash I'd brought with me. I showed it to him but he didn't want it. Heck, he didn't ask for ANYTHING in return! I swear, I've been counting cash since I got home with this huge trunk three hours ago, I'm already up to more than one million dollars in tens and twenties and I'm not even a third of the way done counting! This is freakin' GREAT!! This is the best day of my entire freakin' LIFE!!!  I'm telling you guys, nobody should ever doubt a Nigerian email ever again!!!!!
Nov 2, 2011 11:51PM

I have $59 Million US but I need to get it out of the country. Send me your banking information so I can transfer funds to your account,



               signed:   U Ben Took



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