Better Business Bureau scam study

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COLUMBIA - A Better Business Bureau study about the danger of lottery, sweepstakes and prize scams found the older people are most at risk for becoming a victim. A large number are between 64-75 years old.

The study found two groups have a much greater risk of falling victim: those who have experienced a serious negative event like a loss of a loved one or injury/illness and those who expect their income to stay the same or decrease.

Det. Tom O'Sullivan, of the Boone County Sheriffs Department, said older people can be more vulnerable.

"Many times they grew up in a more trusting environment and they're not used to dealing with a criminal element. They're good people, decent people and they want to believe what someone is telling them," he said.

The most common consumer scams going on right now are centered on the lottery and sweepstakes. The average loss is around $500. 

"Sweepstakes and lottery frauds can strike through many channels. Phone calls, text messages, pop-ups on a smartphone's internet browser, social media and mailing," said Michelle Gleba, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre got nearly 150,000 complaints about sweepstakes/lottery scams last year. They reported total victim losses to be around $117,000,000.

Gleba said the figures are very worrying, but not because of how high they are.

"These numbers only represent the ones we know about," she said.

According to the study, only about 10 percent of fraud victims report it to the authorities.

The study offered a number of tips to avoid being caught in a scam. First, real lotteries and sweepstakes will never ask for money. If you are being asked to pay to collect supposed winnings, it's likely a scam. Second, verify you actually won anything by contacting the lottery or sweepstakes company and, finally, talk to a trusted family member or your bank.

If you believe you have been a victim of fraud please report it to the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and the Missouri attorney general's office.