BBB warns Illinois residents of surging summer sweepstake and lottery scams

The Better Business Bureau is warning Illinois residents not to fall victim to surging lottery and sweepstake scams this summer. 

The nonprofit is urging residents to do their homework and to never pay money before claiming a prize.  

The consumer resource says scammers will take advantage of the dramatic increase in financial losses many people experienced during COVID-19, with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) logging an increase of more than 35% in reported dollar losses.

"Because these scammers are so good at what they do, anyone could be a victim," Steve Bernas, president and CEO of BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois, said in a statement.

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The primary targets of these scams are adults over the age of 55, who represent 72% of fraud reports received by BBB Scam Tracker during the last three years. 

"This updated research highlights how these scams work and the importance of educating older adults and other people who may be susceptible to these scams," Bernas said.

BBB Scam Tracker warns sweepstakes scammers reach out through a variety of channels: phone calls, email, social media, notices in the mail, and text messages.

"After profiling the victim, they take any role -- friend, authority, someone in need -- to best work their crimes," Anthony Pratkanis, Professor Emeritus at the University of California said in a statement. 

Scammers may impersonate well-known sweepstakes such as Publishers Clearing House or a state or provincial lottery.

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"Scammers also employ different voices, sounding authoritative at one point, speaking as a partner at others, or even acting as a supplicant asking for help to make the prize finally appear," Pratkanis said.

Better Business Bureau warns lottery scammers also often use victims as "money mules" to receive money paid by other victims and then transfer the money to the scammers.

The BBB encourages people to use these tips to protect themselves from scammers’ fake sweepstakes and lottery offers.

  • True lotteries or sweepstakes don’t ask for money. If someone wants money for taxes, themselves, or a third party, they are most likely crooks.
  • You have to enter to win. To win a lottery, you must buy a lottery ticket. To win a sweepstakes or prize, you must have entered first. If you can’t remember doing so, that’s a red flag.
  • Call the sweepstakes company directly to see if you won. Publishers Clearing House (PCH) does not call people in advance to tell them they’ve won. Report PCH imposters on their website. Check to see if you have actually won at 800-392-4190.
  • Check to see if you won a lottery. If you are told you’ve won a lottery, call the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries at 440-361-7962 or your local state lottery agency to confirm it.
  • Do an internet search of the company, name, or phone number of the person who contacted you. Check BBB Scam Tracker to see if other consumers have had similar experiences.
  • Law enforcement officials do not call and award prizes. Verify the identity of the caller and do not send money until you do. 
  • Talk to a trusted family member or your bank. They may be able to help. You also can call your local BBB office for help in identifying a scam.

For more information on summer lottery and sweepstake scams, visit BBB.org.