BBB Report: Money lost to sweepstakes scams increased in 2020

A new Better Business Bureau report says Americans lost more money to sweepstakes, prize and lottery scams in 2020 than the year before. Consumer investigative correspondent Anna Werner got an exclusive look at the report.

Video Transcript


TONY DOKOUPIL: Welcome back to CBS This Morning. We are getting an exclusive first look at a new report detailing how Americans lost even more money in 2022 to fake sweepstakes and prize and lottery scams than they did the year before. So, Americans had about $227 million stolen from them last year. That is a 33% increase from 2019. Our Consumer Investigative Correspondent Anna Werner got a look at the report and reveals what red flags to watch out for and the people like to win, but in these cases, I guess they're not. Good morning to you.

ANNA WERNER: Yeah, good morning, Tony. You know, the interesting thing is the BBB says the number of complaints actually went down last year, but the amount of money lost went way up. And families like the one you're about to meet are the victims.

KATHY CHAPMAN: I never would have thought my dad would be susceptible or-- this really shocked me.

ANNA WERNER: Kathy Chapman can't believe her 84-year-old dad fell victim to a sweepstakes scam. It started with calls to his Michigan home in January, she says, from someone who claimed to be from Publishers Clearing House. They told him he'd won money and more, just like the people in those familiar ads. In his case, $2.5 million, a brand new BMW, and gold medallions. All he had to do was pay some taxes and fees. But after he withdrew thousands of dollars at multiple locations, his credit union alerted police, who called his daughters. And when they asked him about it.

KATHY CHAPMAN: He said, I just have to pay some taxes and fees and then I'm going to get this big prize. And I said, no, dad. That's not how it works.

ANNA WERNER: Chapman discovered her dad had been instructed by the scammers to mail them packages of cash. In all, he lost $72,000.

KATHY CHAPMAN: I'm still really angry. He's done nothing to anybody. You know, he's worked hard his whole life and got taken advantage of.

STEVE BAKER: This is huge, organized crime business.

ANNA WERNER: And Better Business Bureau investigator Steve Baker says those scammers are professionals. His report says those con artists often talk to victims every day, building trusting relationships. They take careful notes of the victim's family and try to isolate them from family and friends, and they'll use any method they can.

STEVE BAKER: Sometimes it's through the US mail, text messages, emails, social media.

ANNA WERNER: Like this fraudulent email claiming to be from Publishers Clearing House with photos of winners and a message from the Board chairman. But a closer look reveals clues like typos. For example, how the company pleases to advice its supposed winners of their delivery and presentation date. Chris Irving with Publishers Clearing House.

CHRIS IRVING: If your viewers get an email, a call, any contact, a letter that says you've won a prize but you have to send money, rip up the letter, hang up the phone, and report it to law enforcement, because that's a scam.

ANNA WERNER: A scam, Chapman says, took much of her father's life savings.

KATHY CHAPMAN: I want to prevent this from happening to somebody else. You know, just to tell people, you need to be suspicious.

ANNA WERNER: Well, if you've lost money to a scam, report it to the Better Business Bureau, the FTC, and your local law enforcement. That will help them track some of this down. But remember, Anthony, if somebody says you have to pay money to win, it's a scam.

TONY DOKOUPIL: As you said, it just doesn't work like that. Anna, thank you very much. Folks are absolutely evil to this.