BBB: People losing millions to sweepstakes, lottery and prize sc - WNEM TV 5

BBB: People losing millions to sweepstakes, lottery and prize scams

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It's an old scam, but technology allows it to emerge in new forms.

The Better Business Bureau is warning the public about thieves misrepresenting themselves and convincing people to turn over money under false pretenses.

Terry Glenn is the director of operations for the BBB of West Michigan. In a news conference Tuesday, Glenn said sweepstakes, lottery and prize scams are one of the top three frauds in the country.

She said half a million people in the U.S. and Canada fell into the trap of the schemes in 2017.

The BBB said the number of losses could be even higher, because not everyone reports the crime.

“These numbers represent only the ones that we know about. And it's guesstimated that only about 10 percent of the victims actually report the fact that they were a victim,” Glenn said.

Glenn said thieves are trying to outsmart people of their cash by using ever-evolving scam tactics.

“Everything comes full circle, like a lot of the scams we're talking about today, they've been around for 30 years, just in different formats,” Glenn said. “The scams are pretty much the same, just the message in which they're received are different.”

Glenn explained the sweepstakes/lottery/prize scheme is targeting people through Facebook notifications and text messages.

“Prize and sweepstakes frauds are rampant on social media; now they're coming to cell phones,” Glenn said. “I've even received those messages, ‘Hey, I won X amount of money and you can too.’ They're all fake. There is no lottery on Facebook.”

Glenn explained most of the Facebook lottery scams are thieves claiming to be the founder or executives of the company.

“Usually emails or Facebook notifications from someone claiming to be Mark Zuckerberg or another senior Facebook official claiming they've won a Facebook lottery,” Glenn said. “They of course have to pay a fee, in order to receive their winnings. Then, once they pay that fee, then they're told there are more fees that are needed. And of course, the winnings never materialize. There is no Facebook lottery.”

The BBB said $117 million was ripped off from people in the U.S. and Canada in 2017. Glenn said the elderly, ages 65-74, are at highest risk of these crimes.

“People who have experienced a negative life event, like a serious illness, or injury, or loss of a spouse are more likely to become a victim. Either they're just vulnerable during an emotional state or sometimes they're just lonely and more willing to talk to people,” Glenn said.

Glenn said the BBB received nearly 3,000 tips about sweepstakes and lottery frauds on its scam tracker last year and believes there are thousands more.

“If something does sound like it's too good to be true, definitely let us know. If we're not familiar with it, we'll ask the customer to submit us information so we can investigate and research it,” Glenn said.

Glenn said thieves are also posing as Publishers Clearing House to steal an individual's money.

PCH offers sweepstakes throughout the year. Glenn said it is very common for people to confuse a scam with PCH's real sweepstakes because thieves have designed the scam to look like the real deal.

The BBB is asking people to talk to their parents and grandparents so they know about these scams and don’t become part of the statistic.

Copyright 2018 CBS News / WWMT. All rights reserved. 

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