Americans losing millions to lottery and sweepstakes scams

BBB conducted study to understand why
Posted at 6:42 PM, Jun 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-28 13:52:22-04

It may be the oldest scheme in the book and yet hundreds of thousands of people continue to fall for lottery and sweepstakes scams.

No matter how many warnings there are, this kind of deceit has not disappeared.

“It is one of the most plaguing questions we have at BBB, is why this is still one of the top scams,” said Angie Barnett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Greater Maryland.

To answer their own question, the Better Business Bureau conducted a study. They released their findings this month.

There have been 500,000 complaints in the last three years and $117 million lost just last year. And according to the report, less than 10 percent of fraud victims complain to the BBB and law enforcement, meaning the problem could actually be 10 times worse.

They also found that victims believe because they have hope.

“They need something. It's the older American who is really looking for, ‘I need medicine, I need health care services, I need something in my home,’ so they want to believe,” Barnett said.

The fraudsters play to their emotion and they instill a sense of urgency. A letter to someone in Baltimore claims they won $1.25 million and need to contact the agent and keep the award confidential.

“After you claim your winnings, you will have to pay taxes, you will have some type of fee or service that you will be charged, this will help cover that,” said Barnett.

The check won't clear, and you're on the hook for any money sent or spent.

“The checks always look authentic. In today's counterfeit times, people can produce very realistic looking checks, watermarks, all kinds of things that you used to advise people to look for,” said Barnett.

What you should do is ask yourself if you signed up for any sweepstakes or lottery. If not, that's a red flag. And go to the bank, ask them to examine the check for you.

These scams are happening all around North America including Maryland. Last year, someone local reported that they lost $75,000 after they were told they won the Mega Millions.

The person had a pay schedule and sent all the requested fees and taxes. They said as a result of this scam, they “received an eviction notice, had serious depressive issues, and lost their life savings.”