According to BBB’s most recent investigation, released Wednesday, sweepstakes scammers continue to be a persistent problem. Older adults have been especially hard-hit by these scams, and the BBB is warning of the tactics scammers use to con people out of their money using fake prizes.

Of the 4,417 sweepstakes and lottery scams reported to BBB since its in-depth study in 2018, nearly half came from victims over 65. That age group represents $2.52 million of the $3.1 million in reported losses to BBB.

Usually the scammer promises a major windfall, if first the winner pays a fee up front. Besides offering fake cash prizes, scammers may lure victims by also claiming they will receive luxury cars, laptops or other high-end merchandise.

While you do need to buy a ticket to play the lottery, true lotteries or sweepstakes don’t ask for money if you win. If they want money for taxes, themselves or a third party – it’s a scam.

A northern Indiana resident recently received a call from an impostor fraudulently using the Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH) name. They were told they’d won a $2.5 million prize and a 2020 Chevrolet truck. But first, they were instructed to take $1,000 to a local retailer and make a funds transfer. Thankfully, they hung up on the scammer.

The best way to prevent loss is to avoid scammers altogether. Here are BBB’s tips to help you, or someone you love, detect and avoid a sweepstakes or lottery scam:

You’ve got to play to win. If you don’t remember entering a sweepstakes, a notification that you won should be a red flag. If you regularly enter sweepstakes or other contests, make sure you keep track of your entries.

Call the lottery or sweepstakes company directly.

Check if you won a lottery. Call the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries at 440-361-7962 or contact the Hoosier Lottery at www.hoosierlottery.com.

Do an internet search of the company, name or phone number of the person who contacted you.

Talk to a trusted family member or your bank. They may be able to help before you lose money.

If your elderly loved one has been scammed, contact the Indiana Adult Protective Services hotline at 1-800-992-6978 or visit www.elderjustice.gov.

Sweepstakes or lottery scams can also be reported to the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint or 877-FTC-HELP and the FBI at www.ic3.gov/complaint. If the scammer used the mail, reports can be made to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at www.uspis.gov or 877-876-2455.

Whether you lost money or not, don’t forget to report the scam to BBB.org/ScamTracker to help other consumers stay alert and avoid scams, too.

Marjorie Stephens is president and CEO of the BBB Serving Northern Indiana.

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