Americans lost $227 million to fake sweepstakes, prize and lottery scams in 2020, new report finds

Author: CBS Staff
Kathy Chapman, whose father fell victim to a sweepstakes scam. Credit: CBS News

A new report found that Americans had about $227 million stolen from them last year. The report details how Americans lost money in 2020 to fake sweepstakes, and prize and lottery scams.

The BBB says complaints actually went down last year, but the amount of money lost went up by 33% compared to 2019.

Kathy Chapman said she can’t believe her 84-year-old dad fell victim to a sweepstakes scam. “I never would have thought my dad would be susceptible. It really shocked me,” she told CBS News’ consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner.

Chapman said it started with calls to his Michigan home in January from someone who claimed to be from Publisher’s Clearing House.

They told him he’d won money and more just like the people in those familiar ads. In his case, he was told he won $2.5 million, a brand new BMW and gold medallions—all he had to do was pay some taxes and fees.

But after he withdrew thousands of dollars at multiple locations, his credit union alerted police, who then called his daughters. When they confronted him about it, Chapman said he told them he just had to pay some taxes and fees and then he was going to get this big prize.

“And I said, ‘No, Dad, that’s not that’s not how it works,” she said.

Chapman discovered her dad had been instructed by the scammers to mail them packages of cash — in all, he lost $72,000.

“I’m still really angry. He’s done nothing to anybody, he’s worked hard his whole life and got taken advantage of,” she said.

Better Business Bureau investigator Steve Baker said those scammers are professionals and that the schemes could be compared to a huge organized crime business.

His report on sweepstakes, lottery and prize scams found that con artists often talk to victims every day, building trusting relationships. They take careful notes of the victim’s family and try to isolate them from family and friends. He said that the scammers will use any method of communication that they can including U.S. mail, text messages, emails and social media.

In a fraudulent email claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House, photos of winners and a fake message from the board chairman are displayed. But a closer look reveals clues like typos.

“If your viewers get an email, a call, any contact, a letter that says you’ve won a prize, but you have to send money, rip up the letter, hang up the phone and report it to law enforcement, because that’s a scam,” Chris Irving from Publishers Clearing House said.

It’s a scam that Chapman said took much of her father’s life savings.

“I want to prevent this from happening to somebody else. You know, to tell people you need to be suspicious,” she said.

If you have lost money to a scam, report it to the BBB, the FTC and local law enforcement.

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