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New BBB report focuses on sweepstakes, lottery, and prize scams

ST. LOUIS – From snail mail and phone calls to email and social media, sweepstakes, lottery, and prize scammers can contact you in a litany of ways.

“I was trying to figure out how they got my number,” said Allen Walker.

Walker only lived in St. Louis six weeks when he got a phone call saying he’d won $94,000 in the Jamaican lottery.

“They had me write two checks. One for $2,500, one for $3,000,” he said.

Walker was instructed to wire the money to a man in Tennessee. When the scammers requested he send more money, Walker said he knew he’d been taken.

According to a new study from the Better Business Bureau, Walker was one of nearly 500,000 people who’ve reported this fraud to law enforcement agencies in the US and Canada over the last three years. Reported losses in 2017 alone totaled $117 million.

“These numbers only represent the people that we know about. The people that were brave enough to tell their stories,” said Michelle Corey, president, and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois.

The BBB found the elderly are targeted the most by the vast worldwide industry of sweepstakes mailings that have flooded mailboxes of seniors across the country.

“Scammers know older adults to be more easily disarmed by conniving sales people and they know seniors often have difficulty discerning a misleading promotion from a legitimate one,” said US Postal Inspector Adam Latham.

That’s why it’s important to note that aside from your state lottery, any program that requests or receives money to award a prize is generally illegal. Authorities said Jamaican scammers were responsible for an alarming amount of these cases, often impersonating the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.

“At least one guy has been convicted after a long jury trial and a bunch of others have pleaded guilty,” said Steve Baker, International BBB investigator, and former FTC Midwest regional director.