Scam alert: Sweepstakes or lottery schemes targeting area elderly

In the past year, there have been 250 scams reported to the Better Business Bureau and local law enforcement. But both say there are many more residents who have been scammed out of money that have gone unreported.

The most recent schemes have been sweepstakes or lottery scams that prey on the elderly.

“Many people who have been scammed out of their money don’t report it because they are embarrassed that it happened to them,” said John North, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Dayton and the Miami Valley.

North said there have been 32 sweepstakes or lottery scams reported to the BBB over the past 12 months in the Miami Valley. But of those cases, no one could recall if they had entered a lottery or sweepstakes.

“You can’t win a sweepstakes or lottery if you are not entered,” North said. “If they ask you for money upfront, hang up.” He said if someone calls and asks for personal information, you should hang up as well.

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He said in the 250 scams that have been reported over the past 12 months in the 7 1/2-county Miami Valley region, the actual total loss was about $73,000, while the attempted loss in dollar amounts was more than $348,000.

North said people between the ages of 24-34 are more apt to be scammed overall and online. He said it’s because that age group tend to do everything online.

However, when it comes to seniors, they are the primary targets to be victimized through sweepstakes or lottery scams, North said. One reason for this is that seniors grew up trusting people. Scammers take advantage of that trust in others and steal their money.

Another way these scams occur is when someone hijacks another person’s identity and send out phony requests via email or texts seeking money because of an unfortunate incident. He also said scammers use technology to spoof names and phone numbers on caller ID devices to add credibility in their scams.

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According to the BBB, people over the age of 55 continue to be the primary target of sweepstakes, lottery, and prize scams, representing 72% of fraud reports for this type of scam received by BBB Scam Tracker during the last three years. Of the older consumers who were targeted, 91% reported that they lost money. Adults over 55 lost an average of $978 while those 18-54 lost an average of $279, according to Scam Tracker reports.

Factors that increase the likelihood of seniors being scammed include the confinement and isolation experienced during COVID-19 may have helped fuel the increase in losses. Other factors that may contribute to some older people’s particular vulnerability include mental decline and relative financial stability, as reported in BBB’s 2018 study. Another factor includes powerful social influence tactics.

According to BBB Scam Tracker data, sweepstakes scammers reach out through a variety of channels: phone calls, email, social media, notices in the mail, and text messages. They may impersonate well-known sweepstakes, such as Publishers Clearing House or a state or provincial lottery. The “winner” is told to pay taxes or fees before the prize can be awarded. The FTC notes that people increasingly are asked to buy gift cards to pay these fees -- its use is documented further in BBB’s 2021 in-depth investigative study on gift card fraud -- but they also may be asked to pay via wire transfer or bank deposit into a specified account, or even cash sent by mail.

In reality, the prize does not exist, something the people may not realize before paying thousands of dollars that cannot be recouped. However, the harm suffered by lottery fraud victims can far exceed the loss of that money.

As described in BBB’s 2018 study, sweepstakes and lottery fraud frequently originates from Jamaica, with the U.S. ambassador to that country estimating in August 2020 that such fraud is a $500 million to $1 billion industry there. Reports also have implicated Costa Rican and, most recently, Nigerian nationals.

How to tell fake sweepstakes and lottery offers from real ones:

  • True lotteries or sweepstakes don’t ask for money.
  • You have to enter to win a sweepstakes.
  • Call the sweepstakes company directly to see if you won.
  • Check to see if you won a lottery.
  • Do an internet search of the company, name, or phone number of the person who contacted you.
  • Law enforcement officials do not call and award prizes.
  • Talk to a trusted family member or your bank.


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