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Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams

AARP | Comments: 0

En español | Who wouldn’t want to win thousands or even millions of dollars, or the chance to go on a luxury vacation? There are many legitimate sweepstakes and contests out there, and the idea of winning some fabulous prize can be mighty alluring. Con artists get that, and they exploit your eagerness to score that big check or dream trip.

Sweepstakes and lottery scams have been around for a long time, and they’re still going strong. In 2019 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly 125,000 reports of fraud involving prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries that swindled the unwary out of $121 million. The median loss was $860.

Have you seen this scam?
  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline: 877-908-3360
  • Report it on AARP’s Scam-Tracking Map

Sign up for Watchdog Alerts for more tips on avoiding scams.

The initial contact in a sweepstakes scam is often a call, an email, a social media notification or a piece of direct mail offering congratulations for winning some big contest. But there’s a catch: You’ll be asked to pay a fee, taxes or customs duties to claim your prize. The scammers may request bank account information, urge you to send money via a wire transfer, or suggest you purchase gift cards and give them the card numbers.

Regardless of the method, once scammers ensnare someone they’ll keep coming back, calling victims for months or even years, promising the big prize is only one payment away. If you stop paying or cut off contact, they may threaten to harm you or a loved one or to report you to authorities, according to the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica, the country of origin for many lottery cons. (Be suspicious of any unexpected call from a number starting with 876, the area code for Jamaica.)

Older people are popular targets: According to an August 2020 Better Business Bureau study, 80 percent of the money lost to sweepstakes scammers comes from people over age 65.

A random call announcing you've won a sweepstakes might seem like good luck, but it could be a scammer. Here's how to tell.