Always verify sweepstakes winnings before acting

It’s something many of us have seen or heard, whether in our mailbox, email or by phone call —“You Have Won!” The person on the other side is promising you prizes or money, but there seems to be a catch.

A new report by your Better Business Bureau shows how sweepstakes, lottery and prize schemes are devastating victims financially and emotionally with their ever-evolving methods. These frauds concentrate on seniors, targeting them by direct mail, cold calling, social media, even text messages and smartphone pop-ups.

The BBB reports these scams cheated $117 million out of half thousands of Americans and Canadians in 2017 alone with actual victims and losses likely numbering much higher. The BBB Scam Trackers has recorded 2,820 sweepstakes and lottery scam reports in Scam Tracker in 2017 with a median loss of $500.

In Idaho, there were 110 scams reported with an estimated $612,000 lost in 2017. Unfortunately, senior citizens are the most frequently targeted by this scam and suffer the largest losses, which the report found commonly originate in Jamaica, Costa Rica and Nigeria.

Jamaica is a major source of “cold calls” to victims who are told they have won money. Although similar calls come from Costa Rica, the scam has had a major impact in Jamaica, where the amount of money generated by lottery fraud has resulted in gang wars between rival fraud groups, leading to a dramatic spike in violence. More than 95 percent of reported fraud in Jamaica involves lottery or sweepstakes scams.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, these scams were the third most common type of fraud reported in 2017. Earlier this year, the FTC acted against an operation that allegedly sent mailers that made people think they had won $1 million and that the recipient only needed to pay a small fee to claim it.

Your BBB wants to make sure people can detect this scam and prevent becoming a victim. True lotteries and sweepstakes don’t ask for money; if you are asked for money or taxes, it’s a huge red flag. Also, don’t be afraid to look into these mailers or calls, call the lottery or sweepstakes company directly to see if you won.

Publishers Clearing House (PCH) does have sweepstakes but does not call people in advance to tell them they’ve won. Report PCH imposters to their hotline at 800-392-4190.

For more information on this topic and other scams, go to

Jeremy Johnson is the eastern Idaho marketplace manager for Better Business Bureau, serving the Northwest and Pacific. Contacther at by emailing