BBB: Contest scams cost victims more during pandemic | national news

TUCSON (KVOA) – Sweepstakes and lottery scams resulted in higher financial losses during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the previous three years, especially for older people, new research from Better Business shows Office.

BBB warns consumers to never pay money to claim a prize. If someone asks for money before giving out a prize, it is probably a scam.

The research is an update of the BBB’s 2018 Comprehensive Investigation Study, Sweepstakes, Lotteries and Prizes Scams: A Better Business Bureau Study of How “Winners” Lose Millions to Ever-Growing Fraud. Since the study’s publication, there has been a 16% decrease in complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaints Center (IC3), and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center. (CAFC). However, Financial losses reported to the three agencies increased significantly in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, with the FTC recording a more than 35% increase in reported dollar losses. The updated research highlights how these scams work and the importance of educating consumers, especially those who may be susceptible to a specific scam.

According to Steve Baker, BBB International Investigations Specialist, “This updated research highlights how these scams work and the importance of educating the elderly and others who may be exposed to these scams. Because these crooks are so good at what they do, anyone could be a victim.

Seniors are the main target of sweepstakes scams

People over 55 continue to be the primary targets of sweepstakes, lotteries and prizes scams, accounting for 72% of fraud reports for this type of scam received by BBB Scam Tracker in the past three years. Of the older consumers who were targeted, 91% said they had lost money. Adults over 55 lost an average of $ 978 while those aged 18 to 54 lost an average of $ 279, according to Scam Tracker reports.

The containment and isolation of many elderly people experienced during COVID-19 may have helped fuel the increase in casualties. Other factors that may contribute to the particular vulnerability of some older people include mental decline and relative financial stability, as noted in the 2018 BBB study.

However, recent BBB interviews with repeat victims of raffle scams revealed that few of them were the ‘fragile locked up’ stereotype that many people envision, ”according to Baker, the author of the study. of 2018. Instead, Baker noted that the victims interviewed were ordinary people more interested in using the imaginary gains to help their families or communities than spending it on themselves.

Debbie Deem, retired FBI victim assistance specialist, explains: “They may believe that the earnings will strengthen their role in the family, as well as their ability to financially support their younger parents. It can be nice to be financially useful again, especially if it was their former main role in the family.

Quarantine isolation helped scammers sell the scam

Containment during the pandemic, along with powerful social influence tactics, are helping lottery scammers sell the scam, according to Anthony Pratkansis, professor emeritus at the University of California. “After profiling the victim, they take on any role – friend, authority, person in need – to better work on their crimes,” Pratkansis told BBB. “Scammers often talk to victims every day, grooming them and building trusting relationships. They take careful note of the victim’s family and other aspects of their life and, like dating frauds, try to isolate victims from their traditional support structure. Scammers also employ different voices, sounding bossy at one point, speaking as a partner to others, or even acting as a supplicant asking for help to finally bring up the prize.

Lottery scammers use social media, email, phone

According to data from BBB Scam Tracker, sweepstakes scammers contact various channels: phone calls, email, social media, mail notifications and SMS. They can pose as well-known raffles such as Publishers Clearing House or a state or provincial lottery. The “winner” is asked to pay taxes or fees before the prize can be awarded. The FTC notes that more and more people are being urged to buy gift cards to pay for these fees – its use is documented in more detail in BBB’s in-depth investigation of gift card fraud in 2021 – but they may also be required to pay by bank or bank transfer. deposit into a specified account, or even cash sent by mail.

There is no such thing as a prize, something people may not realize until they pay thousands of dollars that cannot be recovered. However, the harm suffered by victims of lottery fraud can far outweigh the loss of that money. Losses can strain family confidence, and victims have even committed suicide. Additionally, repeat victims may have difficulty ending their involvement in a lottery scam, and they may become money mules who receive and transfer money from other victims of lottery fraud.

Shortly after his wife’s death in 2020, a Michigan man in the 80s was contacted by crooks who told him he had won second place in a popular contest, taking home 2.5 million dollars. dollars, a brand new luxury car and gold medallions. He then started talking to the crooks on the phone daily, contacting them even after his daughter changed her phone number. He withdrew money from his retirement account and opened a separate account, sending a total of $ 72,000 in cash to an address in Mississippi before his daughter cut off contact between him and the crooks.

Don’t be a money mule

Lottery scammers also often use victims as “money mules” to receive money paid by other victims and then transfer the money to the crooks. This makes it more difficult to find victims’ funds and find the real crook. Some victims do this without realizing that the money is coming from other victims of fraud; others may believe it is a way to recover some of the funds they have lost. Still others can become mules because of the crooks’ threats. The US Department of Justice cracked down on these money mules with a major law enforcement initiative announced in December 2019, but officials often do not pursue unintentional mules as a first line of action, warning them rather than prosecution. could result if they continue.

A Pennsylvania woman said she lost at least $ 35,000 in three years after receiving a letter from “Mega Millions” in April 2017 telling her she had won $ 5.5 million and a 2019 Mercedes Benz. The woman said the scammer, who she spoke to on the phone daily for several years, initially asked for $ 9,500 in fees, but other requests for money followed. The woman paid the “fees” by wire transfer and gift cards. She also cashed a forged cashier’s check sent by the crooks, leading to criminal charges against her. Later, the woman repeatedly acted like a mule of money, and then the victims of fraud began to contact her directly. She believed that all of these tasks were necessary for her to receive her earnings. When the woman complained to the scammer she had spoken to, he threatened her and her son.

As described in the 2018 BBB study, raffles and lottery frauds often originate from Jamaica, with the United States Ambassador to that country estimating in August 2020 that such fraud represents an industry of 500. to $ 1 billion. The United States and Jamaica have teamed up in an international law enforcement effort known as Project Jolt, which has resulted in numerous lawsuits. Reports have also implicated Costa Rican nationals and, more recently, Nigerians.

How to distinguish bogus lottery and lottery offers from real ones:

  • Real lotteries or raffles don’t ask for money. If anyone wants money to pay their taxes, themselves or a third party, they are probably scammers.
  • You must participate to win. To win the lottery, you must purchase a lottery ticket. To win a raffle or a prize, you must first register. If you don’t remember it, it’s a red flag.
  • Call the raffle company directly to see if you have won. Publishers Clearing House (PCH) does not call people ahead to tell them they have won. Report PCH imposters or check if you really won at 800-392-4190.
  • Check if you have won the lottery. Call the North American State and Provincial Lottery Association at 440-361-7962 or your local state lottery agency.
  • Search the Internet for the company, name or phone number of the person who contacted you.
  • Law enforcement officials do not call or award prizes. Verify the caller ID and don’t send money until you have done so.
  • Talk to a trusted family member or your bank. They might be able to help.

If you believe you have been the target of lottery / contest fraud, file a report with:

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