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Americans are falling for scams less, but losing more money during pandemic

Complaints to the BBB are down, but the numbers show Americans have lost more than $227 million dollars to sweepstakes scams in 2020.

WASHINGTON — Americans have lost more than $227 million to sweepstakes, prize and lottery scams, according to numbers from the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. Now the Better Business Bureau is warning people about the scams and offering tips on how to avoid them.

Back in 2018, the BBB took a look into how many people were falling victim to these types of scams and how much they were losing. At that time, about 146,000 Americans had reported being victims, getting scammed out of around $112 million.

But since that study, the BBB found that while the number of people who are falling for these scams has gone down by about 16%, total dollar losses have gone up significantly. In fact, the amount of money people have lost has gone up every year since the 2018 study. 

In 2020, the FTC reported more than $167 million in losses, an increase of more than 30% from 2019. In fact, sweepstakes, prize and lottery scams were the fourth-most highly reported to the FTC in 2020. Meanwhile the IC3 reported losses of more than $61 million. Combined, there were more than 120,000 separate reports of Americans getting duped out of their money.

The BBB says that older Americans, specifically those over 55, are more likely to fall for these scams, losing an average of $978. 

"The confinement and isolation many older people experienced during COVID-19 may have helped fuel the increase in losses," the BBB wrote. "Other factors that may contribute to some older people’s particular vulnerability include mental decline and relative financial stability, as reported in BBB’s 2018 study."

The BBB has recommendations for how anyone can avoid getting scammed:

  • First, don't pay anyone any money. The BBB says real lotteries and sweepstakes will never make anyone pay to receive a prize.
  • Sweepstakes winners need to enter to win. Anyone who hasn't entered a contest should be suspicious.
  • Call the sweepstakes company directly to confirm.
  • Search the company's name on the internet.

The BBB also says anyone who thinks they may have been a victim of this type of scam can report it to the BBB Scam Tracker, or the FTC by calling (877) 382-4357.

Travis Pittman contributed to this report.