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Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams Cost Americans $117 Million Last Year

The Better Business Bureau is sounding an alarm over lottery and prize scams, saying over half a million people have been fooled by scam artists in the last three years.

Total losses for 2017 alone stand at $117 million—a number the agency says is almost certainly drastically low, since many victims are too embarrassed to report the crime.

The median loss for victims, who tend to be senior citizens between the ages of 65-74, came in at $500, usually through wire transfer.

The scams vary in execution, but generally involve a cold call telling people they’ve won a large amount of money in a lottery or sweepstakes, such as the Publisher’s Clearing House (a legitimate sweepstakes that is well known, which makes the scam seem real). To collect their winnings, people are told they must pay the taxes in advance. Once the “tax money” is sent, the scammers disappear.

Many of the calls, say BBB officials, are coming from Jamaica. And that’s causing significant crime issues for that country as well.

“The massive amounts of money coming into the island from lottery fraud has resulted in gang wars between rival fraud groups, who use the money to buy guns and drugs,” the Bureau said. “Jamaica has about the same population as Chicago, but had more than twice the number of murders in 2017 (650 in Chicago, 1,616 in Jamaica). As a result of these problems, a State of Emergency has been declared for a large part of Jamaica, including Kingston and Montego Bay.”

Social media is also increasingly being used to reach out to victims.