WARNING: Sweepstakes scams victimize elderly with evolving tactics

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (WTVQ) – A new report from the Better Business Bureau shows scams regarding sweepstakes and prizes claimed $117 million out of half-a-million Americans in 2017, with the majority of losses suffered by senior citizens.

The report titled, “Sweepstakes, Lottery and Prize Scams: A Better Business Bureau Study of How ‘Winners’ Lose Millions through an Evolving Fraud,” shows how sweepstakes scams are devastating victims financially and emotionally with ever-evolving method, according to the BBB.

The BBB says these frauds concentrate on seniors, targeting them by direct mail, cold calling, social media, text messages and smartphone pop-ups.

The BBB system says it received 2,820 sweepstakes and lottery scam reports in Scam Tracker in 2017, with an average loss of $500 per scam. Seniors are the most frequent targets and suffer the largest losses by far in these scams, which the report found commonly originate in Jamaica, Costa Rica and Nigeria.

The numbers of actual victims and their losses likely number even higher than those reported, according to the BBB.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • 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 people reported sweepstakes and lottery scams to BBB Scam Tracker. These reports show a median loss of $500. Wire transfer was the most frequent method of payment.
  • Jamaica is a major source of “cold calls” to victims who are told they have won money. The scam has had a major impact in Jamaica, where the amount of money generated by lottery fraud has resulted in gang wars between rival fraud groups, leading to a dramatic spike in violence. More than 95 percent of reported fraud in Jamaica involves lottery or sweepstakes scams.

The study can be viewed in its entirety at http://us.bbb.org/lotteryscamstudy.

The BBB explains the report recommends stronger law enforcement efforts on three fronts: In Jamaica, which has seen an upswing in violence related to lottery fraud profits; in the U.S., where law enforcement is urged to step up extraditions and prosecutions of overseas fraudsters operating in the U.S.; and globally, as law enforcement agencies worldwide are encouraged to take steps toward holding deceptive mailing organizations accountable and stopping fraudulent mail.

It also urges Facebook and other social media platforms to take steps to weed out fake, fraudulent profiles and make fraud reporting easier.

The BBB urges consumers to follow these tips to avoid being caught in lottery or sweepstakes fraud:

  • True lotteries or sweepstakes don’t ask for money. It is illegal for a prize company to require payment of money in order to release a prize you have won to you.
  • If you are unsure of a prize notice, call the sweepstakes or prize 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.
  • Some prize scammers use the names of law enforcement agencies (and even the BBB!) in their notifications. Law enforcement nor the BBB are involved with awarding 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.  Also, be sure to report the scam to your local BBB so that others may be warned.
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