Sweepstake scams have been around for years. Con artists used to mail traditional letters claiming people were winners of huge prizes. Today they can take the form of an email message or pop-up on social media.
Do people win prizes? Not if the the sweepstakes first wants money from the winner.
"If they are asking for money, that's not a prize," said Linda Karimi with the San Diego Better Business Bureau.
She says the scams offer prizes of money, vacations or jewelry but then try to collect money from the "winner."
"There are two things they are asking", said Karimi. "It's going to be money, which you know is a red flag, but it's also personal information."
Karimi says the majority of lottery or sweepstakes scam victims are between 65 and 74 years of age. Among that age group, people who recently experienced a negative life event or who expect their income to decline are more likely to fall victim.
Here are things you need to know to avoid being a sweepstakes victim:
Legisimate sweepstakes are free and by chance.
It's illegal to ask you to buy something to enter to increase your odds of winning.
Promoters are legally required to tell you certain things...
- The odds of winning
- The value of the prize
- It's free to enter
- Terms and conditions to receive the prize
Promoters can not claim you are a winner unless you have actually won the prize. If you don't remember entering a sweepstakes you probably didn't. If you are approached by someone claiming you are a winner, you should search the sweepstakes online and contact a local consumer protection office.
"There is an 80 percent chance it's a scam," said Karimi.
The Better Business Bureau says in 2018, they recorded 2,820 individuals reporting sweepstakes and lottery scams. The reports show an average loss of $500 and a total of $96,770 in San Diego alone, with wire transfer as the most frequent method of payment.