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.
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Don’t need a lottery scam because today I got an email from a Nigerian prince who needs me to cash his check in return for a large cash payout so I’M SET FOR LIFE!
Just now I uncovered a potential scam preying upon people who have kidney health issues like myself. . . . Their sales pitch is so convincing, even overcoming doubts of preparing $1200 for the first 5 months of a 10 month treatment plan. The only thing that saved me is that I don’t have or use credit cards and I’m too technically challenged to email a picture of my check, so I mailed it. I enthusiastically looked forward to successfully ridding my body from this catheter usage that I was told might be permanent for the rest of my life. It’s a good thing I decided to Google the product’s Consumer Reviews and was brought to a very reliable website called TrustPilot.com. . . . Of the first 20 reviewing comments: 15 were very negative and 5 very good. Most of the negative comments were paying $2400 up front and never receiving the product or receiving 1 months supply only and the product didn’t end up working. I quickly went to my bank and stopped payment on my check. I went back and called the company and spoke to “Dr.” sales person and questioned the Customer Reviews that I found. He said they were phony but I said that the Trust Pilot website had a very honest and reliable reputation. He then offered to send me phone numbers of satisfied customers to prove this. Since I live in Southern California, I said I would like the testimonials to be from this area. I was told no problem and I would be receiving them shortly. . . . Guess what? I’m still waiting for them! . . . I tried to figure out how they got my name and that I had kidney health issues and the only thing I can think of is that the day before they first contacted me I had Googled about the good and bad of having Kidney Dialysis treatments and Google must sell the leads to willing buyers because they now had my email address. . . . So be careful and do do diligence before preparing large sums of money before ever receiving any product. Their sales pitch was that preparing 5 months kept the cost down. I said “you promised that I would see positive results within 2-3 weeks” and if so, I said that I’ll agree to pay you that first month in advance and the balance 4 months after I see the promised results. They said that goes against company policy and that they stand on their company’s 40 year reputation. I told them that I enthusiastically await those Consumer testimonials which I am STILL awaiting to receive!
Here’s how you can tell its a scam: If anyone calls you offering any sort of miracle medical breakthrough or treatment, it’s a scam. Period. No reputable medical company sells its products or services via cold calling. You don’t have to listen to the sales pitch. Just hang up and then block the number on your phone. Problem solved. Same goes if someone calls you and claims you won the lottery, inherited a lot of money, have been chosen to receive a gift, etc., etc.. It’s all nothing but a scam.
For elder fraud, bank tellers and cashiers serve as the last line of defense before a fraud is successfully completed. They’re where the money actually changes hands in the lottery scams, not when the gift card or other token is given to the scamster. A gentle question or a kind word about an unusual withdrawal or gift card purchase can go a long way toward preventing a crime.