A new Better Business Bureau report says that sweepstakes, lottery and prize schemes bilked at least $117 million from people in 2017.
The report — “Sweepstakes, Lottery, and Prize Scams: A Better Business Bureau Study of How “Winners” Lose Millions Through an Evolving Fraud” — was released earlier this month.
The report found that seniors are the most frequent targets and suffer the largest losses by far in these scams. They are targeted through direct mail, cold calling, social media, text messages and smartphone pop-ups.
After learning of the report, attorney Jeff Weinstein renewed his vow to help people avoid being victims of these scams.
“Please run these opportunities by me before you send the money,” Weinstein said. “It’s almost impossible to ever get any of this money back. Once you send it, it’s gone. We don’t charge anything for a call to find out whether these requests are legitimate or not.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, these scams involve getting a notification you’ve won some prize.
“But here’s what happens next: they tell you there’s a fee, some taxes, or customs duties to pay. They ask for your bank account information, or ask you to send money via a wire transfer or to purchase gift cards and provide the card numbers.”
“Any way you send it, you lose money instead of winning it. You don’t get a big prize. Instead, you get more requests for money, and more promises that you won big. Scammers can be very convincing, and who wouldn’t want to win big!”
Key findings in the report include:
- The majority of lottery or sweepstakes scam victims are between 65 and 74 years old. Among that age group, people who recently experienced a serious negative life event, and who expect their income in the near future to remain steady or decline, are even more likely to be victimized.
Sweepstakes/lottery fraud can strike through many channels – phone calls, text messages, pop-ups on a smartphone’s Internet browser, social media, and mailings.
In 2017, 2,820 individuals reported sweepstakes and lottery scams to BBB Scam Tracker. These reports show a median loss of $500, with wire transfer as the most common method of payment.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips for consumers to avoid lottery or sweepstakes fraud:
- True lotteries or sweepstakes don’t ask for money before you claim a prize. If they want money for taxes, themselves, or a third party, they are most likely crooks.
- Call the lottery or sweepstakes company directly to see if you won. Publishers Clearing House (PCH) does have a sweepstakes but does not call people in advance to tell them they’ve won. Report PCH imposters to their hotline at 800-392-4190.
- Check to see if you won a lottery. Call the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries at 440-361-7962 or your local state lottery agency.
- Do an internet search of the company, name, or phone number of the person who contacted you.
Law enforcement does not call to award prizes.
- Talk to a trusted family member or your bank. They may be able to help you stay in control of your money in the face of fraudster pressure.