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BBB Tip of the Week: Sweepstakes, lottery schemes target seniors

A new report by Better Business Bureau says sweepstakes, lottery and prize schemes are devastating victims financially and emotionally with ever-evolving methods.

These types of fraud concentrate on seniors, targeting them by direct mail, cold-calling, social media and even text messages and smartphone pop-ups. BBB warns consumers to be on guard against these serious and pervasive scams and their perpetrators.

The report “Sweepstakes, Lottery and Prize Scams: A Better Business Bureau Study of How ‘Winners’ Lose Millions Through an Evolving Fraud” notes these scams bilked $117 million out of half a million Americans and Canadians in 2017, with actual victims and losses likely numbering much greater. BBB received 2,820 sweepstakes and lottery scam reports in Scam Tracker in 2017, with a median loss of $500. Seniors are the most frequent target and suffer the largest losses by far in these scams, which the report found commonly originate in Jamaica, Costa Rica and Nigeria. In Washington, there were 103 scams reported.

A Spokane-area woman reports she received a Facebook message from someone stating she had won $950,000 in a lottery. She was told to send three money orders totaling $800 to someone named “Alan Michael James.” After the woman sent the money, she was told she needed to pay an additional $1,900 to pay for taxes.

BBB offers the following tips for consumers to avoid being caught in lottery or sweepstakes fraud:

True lotteries or sweepstakes don’t ask for money. 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 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 and 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.

If you fall victim to a lottery scam, or any other type of scam or scheme, report it to BBB Scam Tracker by visiting bbb.org/scamtracker.


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