It never fails.
The phones in our office start ringing whenever Publishers Clearing House begins promoting its sweepstakes or when one of the major lottery jackpots grow large enough to garner some publicity. The calls are from consumers who have been contacted by someone telling them they had won a jackpot or sweepstakes they had never entered or bought a ticket for.
Most callers immediately recognize it’s a scam and just want to make us aware, but there are a remarkably large number of people who want to believe they were going to receive a windfall! It is truly amazing that many people refuse to believe they are victims of a hoax, even after we tell them so.
Even though people of all age groups become victims of lottery/sweepstakes scams, consumers over the age of 65 are the big losers.
In a just-released study by the Better Business Bureau, data showed 80% of the money lost in these types of scams was by consumers over the age of 65. Combined FTC and Canada’s Internet Crime Complaint Center complaints show losses of $170.4 million in 2019.
An elderly man from Branson, Missouri, is an example of how scammers weave their vicious web. He received a call from Jamaica informing him he had won $8.5 million in the MegaMillions lottery plus a new Mercedes-Benz. He was also told $85,000 in taxes had already been paid on the winnings, but he would need to pay $500 in lawyer fees to receive the prizes. During the next four months, various callers asked the man to purchase more than $6,500 in Walmart, Walgreens and other gift cards to pay for additional fees to collect the prize he never received. He finally reported them to BBB.
But they didn’t stop there. Even after telling them he knew it was a scam, he received a phone call, supposedly from Publishers Clearing House this time, saying they were investigating victims of scams by the previous scammer. He said, “Scam!” and hung up.
Many lottery and sweepstakes scam victims are likely to be contacted again and again by scammers. Unfortunately, many of these scam victims keep sending money for weeks or months, thinking each step is the last one before they receive their prize winnings.
Scammers have also updated their sales pitches to potential victims to now include COVID-19 elements to legitimize their stories, using supposed COVID-19 safety precautions for prize delivery and attributing delays in awarding prizes to the pandemic.
Here are some tips to help you or an elderly loved one detect and avoid these prize scams:
• Remember if you didn’t enter a sweepstakes or buy a lottery ticket, you cannot win. Law requires players to purchase a ticket to play lottery or to enter the sweepstakes to win.
• Legitimate sweepstakes or lotteries don’t ask for money for fees or taxes, so if money is demanded, it’s most likely a scam.
• Call the sweepstakes company directly to see if you’ve won. Publishers Clearing House does not call or email people in advance to let them know they’ve won.
• You can check to see if you’ve won a lottery. Call the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries at 440-361-7962 or check with your local state lottery agency.
• Do an internet search of the phone number, company or name of the person who contacted you.
• Talk with a trusted family member or your bank.
These particular frauds are especially devastating to older adults in the United States. Be helpful and vigilant in recognizing and avoiding the tactics used by scammers.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.