I’m sure you’d agree, they came across as a lovely couple. In fact, my immediate thought was that it couldn’t happen to nicer people. I’m talking about Frances and Patrick Connolly from Northern Ireland, who won £115 million in the new year Euromillions jackpot. Now I would definitely tick the ‘no publicity box’, but apparently the Connollys didn’t, because they were all over the TV news and all over the papers, talking about how they intended to share the prize money with their family, friends and charitable causes. In fact, they said they had already made a list of about 50 potential recipients.
Which somehow makes it all the more distasteful that they have been impersonated on YouTube and Twitter with fake accounts offering 50 people a portion of the Connollys’ new wealth in exchange for subscribing to their channel or following them. The accounts have been quickly shut down, but others have popped up in their place – one specifically targeted students – and, of course, people have subscribed and followed.
I’m not making a judgement about those subscribers and followers. If you read their comments and posts you’ll sense that some of them are not entirely unaware that they may be being duped, but they probably have genuine financial problems, which makes them desperate and prepared to take what seems like a small risk, just on the slightest off-chance an account belongs to the real Pat Connolly. It’s upsetting, isn’t it?
The thing is, though, it’s not a small risk, it’s a big risk. Interacting with fake accounts like these makes you extremely vulnerable. Scammers can scrape a surprising amount of information about you from your social media activity, including, in this instance, that you just might be the sort of person who is susceptible to a scam. Your personal details could end up on a suckers’ list (I’ve posted about those here and here) and even if you manage to avoid becoming the victim of a fraud, you could still receive a lot of unwanted attention from criminals.
Some of these accounts claimed they would distribute a chunk of cash to 50 people once they’d reached a certain number of followers or subscribers. I’m sceptical that they’d be true to their word on this, but let’s assume for a moment that they go through the motions of doing a fake draw. If your name comes out a ‘winner’, they’ll need your bank details, won’t they, so what do you do then? And what do you do if they ask you to send them a relatively modest release fee, so that they can transfer your share of the £115 million into your bank account? Surely it would be worth it, wouldn’t it?
In case you’re in any doubt, no, it wouldn’t be worth it. Spend your money on a bona fide lottery ticket instead, because although hitting the jackpot is a longshot, at least you won’t be scammed. I wish Frances and Pat all the best. They said they were already happy, so I hope that being able to improve the lives of others by giving away their fortune brings them even more happiness. However, I am confident they won’t be doing that via social media.
Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist.