MILWAUKEE -- They think they're big winners, but they're actually losing millions. Thousands of people are still falling for sweepstakes and lottery scams -- and experts say the number of victims is greater than you may think.
"I got some material in the mail I sent in a $35 entry fee," McGuinness recalled.
After sending money, more and more letters started flooding his mailbox.
"I started getting things from the Spanish Lottery," McGuinness said. "I get this official document from Spain that has all these stamps on it. The thing that flagged me the most was 'U.S. Government approved.'"
Concerned, McGuinness reached out to the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau and learned the letter was a scam.
"The BBB said foreign lotteries are illegal," McGuinness said.
Jim Temmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin BBB, says these fraudsters target people, especially seniors, who believe they are winners.
"These lottery scams, sweepstakes scams are, unfortunately, very popular," Temmer said.
Recent data from the BBB shows lottery and sweepstakes scam victims lost $117 million in 2017.
"They'll send something out saying you're a winner all you need to do is get back to them," Temmer said. "Of course, there is no prize. There is no money. It's not there. It's a big scam."
According to BBB research, the average victim lost $500 in 2017. The same data shows nearly 3,000 individuals reported these scams to the BBB last year, but Temmer says the number of victims is likely much more.
"Our study show thousands and thousands of people fell for this. In reality, it could be nine times that many because people don't like to admit that they were scammed," Temmer revealed.
McGuinness says he doesn't want anyone to become a victim.
"I think it's important to get this out, not only to seniors, but to everybody," McGuinness said. "We don't need piranhas looking to bite at your heels and to steal your money."
There are legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes out there. One thing to remember is the real ones will not ask for money. You never need to pay money to win money or other prizes.
The BBB offers the following advice about lottery and sweepstakes scams:
- True lotteries or sweepstakes don’t ask for money. If they want money for taxes, themselves, or a third party, they are most likely crooks.
- Call the lottery or sweepstakes company directly to see if you won. Publishers Clearing House (PCH) does have a sweepstakes but does not call people in advance to tell them they’ve won. Report PCH imposters to their hotline at 800-392-4190.
- Check to see if you won a lottery. Call the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries at 440-361-7962 or your local state lottery agency.
- Do an internet search of the company, name, or phone number of the person who contacted you.
- Law enforcement does not call and award prizes.
- Talk to a trusted family member or your bank. They may be able to help you stay in control of your money in the face of fraudster pressure.
In addition, if you are a victim of a scam, you can help others by reporting it to the BBB. Just go to the Scam Tracker tool.
You can learn more about lottery and sweepstakes scams from the BBB by clicking HERE.