Courtesy of Travelers Insurance
It’s hard to go a week without seeing some lottery or sweepstakes scam in your local news. Many people may think that hackers and scammers focus on large corporations or the wealthy. However, it’s often regular people they target, especially older Americans.
A recent report by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)found a 74% increase in reported losses resulting from these types of scams, for those over 60 in 2021 from 2020.1 That means it’s more important than ever to be aware of these attacks and to learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones.
For some older Americans, it can be daunting to use the internet. After all, they didn’t grow up in the digital age, so their internet learnings have come later in their lives. Unfortunately, that can make them susceptible to scams, especially phishing, which is a scheme to get personal or financial information via email. Swindlers often use sweepstakes or lottery scams to obtain access to financial information from their victims.
The Potential Stolen Gains
Elder fraud scams are on the rise across the board. In 2021, the FBI documented 92,000 fraud victims over 60 with reported losses of $1.7 billion, with the average victim losing over $18,000.1
According to the IC3 report, in 2021, people over 60 lost more than $53 million from lottery and sweepstakes scams. These scams are among the top ten losses of reported crimes for those over 60.1
A lottery or sweepstakes scam often begins with a phone call, email, or social media notification. The unsuspecting victim is congratulated and told they’ve won a prize. First, however, they’ll need to pay taxes and fees to collect it. The scammer might even say they’re calling from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or another official-sounding government agency.2 If the victim responds with their personal information, the scammer may get access to their accounts supposedly to cover these taxes and fees and disappears with their money.
The scammer hopes that by using a popular and recognizable name in their message they can gain the victim’s confidence and get them to provide their financial details.2 The method is similar for sweepstakes scams as well. They try to convince their victims they entered it, even if they don’t remember doing so.
In some instances, sweepstakes or lottery scams involve a letter stating the recipient has won a prize and comes along with a cashier’s check.2 The scammers ask victims to deposit the check in their account and then wire a portion back to cover taxes and fees.
Sometimes, these scams can go on for months, if not years.3 The scammer will keep calling the victim, telling them they only need to pay ‘one more time’ to get their prize.
What to Do
As elder fraud scams become more sophisticated, it’s increasingly important to make sure seniors are aware and informed. Staying alert and knowing what to look for are the first steps toward avoiding scams. Here are some tips:
- The government will never call and ask for money. If someone claims to be from the IRS or another agency, it’s a scam.
- Major lotteries such as Mega Millions or Publisher’s Clearing House also won’t call. So, if you get a call that claims to be from these companies, hang up.
- Never provide financial or personal information over email or social media. If someone asks for this, it’s likely a scam.
- Don’t pay for a free prize. No legitimate lottery or sweepstakes will ask for money to either claim your winnings or improve your chances of winning.
- Educate yourself. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) have resources dedicated to helping people spot scams.4,5
If you or a loved one is the victim of a lottery or sweepstakes scam, here’s what to do:
- Report it to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) site at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
- Call the Department of Justice’s National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311).
- Contact local law enforcement agencies and report the crime.
- File a complaint with the attorney general for your state.
- If you or your loved one has sent money to the scammer or given them personal information, the FTC has advice on what to do.
There’s no guarantee you won’t fall victim to lottery or sweepstakes scams. However, knowing what to look for can help you reduce the chances and avoid them.
To learn more about how you can save on Home, Renters and Auto Insurance, check out this special offer for AMAC members from Travelers or call 866-890-1786.