We all dream about winning the lottery or the Publishers Clearing House folks secretly coming up our walkway and knocking on our door telling us we won millions of dollars. Well, I do.

Unfortunately, because we all wish for such luck, criminals prey on our wishes and have come up with a scam where they act like they are from Publishers Clearinghouse and call you to tell you that you won. After the congratulations dies down, then they tell you that you need to send them money in order to pay for taxes and fees. They ask you to send the money through Western Union or MoneyGram, or to send a prepaid gift card, all of which are difficult to track.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning consumers about this scam and has offered several things to know if you are being told you have won a prize:

  • Publishers Clearinghouse never calls you ahead of time to give you the heads up. They actually do drive up and knock on your door.
  • Publishers Clearinghouse (nor any other legitimate prize promoter) will ever ask you to pay a fee to collect a prize.
  • If you are asked to pay a fee to win a prize, report it to the FTC.
  • Never send money to collect a prize.
  • If you have paid money to a company to redeem a prize through Western Union, MoneyGram or a prepaid or gift card company, call the company, advise them of the situation and report the loss.
  • If you have wired money via Western Union to a scammer between January 1, 2004, and January 19, 2017, you may be eligible for a refund.

Buying a lottery ticket may be risky, but at least you have a lottery ticket in your hand. Sending money to claim a “prize” is a scam with nothing in your hand to show for it.