This family’s heartbreak is not unique. Sweepstakes and lottery scammers target adults 55 and older, and victims in this age group who actually lost money gave away an average of nearly $1,000 each, the BBB says in the report. For some, the loss is much higher.
The Alaska woman’s son says the first group of scammers that defrauded his mother posed as officials of Publishers Clearing House, which carries fraud warnings on its website and notes: “At PCH the winning is always free and you NEVER have to pay to claim a prize.”
Others have been preyed on
The BBB report cites a Michigan man, also in his 80s, targeted by sweepstakes scammers in 2020, shortly after his wife died. He lost $72,000.
The widower was told he’d won $2.5 million, gold medallions and a luxury car in a sweepstakes. He began talking to the scammers daily, even after his daughter had his phone number changed.
These ruses hinge on a similar request: Pay money up front — called “taxes” or “fees” — to collect a supposed prize. Victims are told to pay with gift cards, cash, cashier’s checks, wire transfers or deposits into specified bank accounts.
From Michigan to Mississippi
The widower withdrew $72,000 from his nest egg and mailed cash to an address in Mississippi. It’s highly unlikely such losses can be recouped, the BBB says.
A ray of good news: Complaints to three entities in the U.S. and Canada about sweepstakes, lottery and prize scams have dropped 16 percent since 2018. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center; and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre took the complaints.
But amid the dip, the three organizations saw a dramatic rise in the dollars lost to such scams, though not everyone targeted loses money; some refuse to take the bait.
Victims have taken their lives
Compounding the damage for victims is the emotional toll, according to the BBB, which says: “The losses can put severe strain on family trust, and victims have even committed suicide.”