Sweepstakes and prize scams bilked $117 million out of half a million North Americans in 2017, according to a new report by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The fraud also concentrates on senior citizens, who also suffer the most losses.

The report – “Sweepstakes, Lottery and Prize Scams: A Better Business Bureau Study of How ‘Winners’ Lose Millions through an Evolving Fraud”- tells how victims are being devastated, financially and emotionally, with ever-evolving scamming methods. These frauds concentrate on seniors, targeting them by direct mail, cold calling, social media, even text messages and smartphone pop-ups.

The BBB system received 2,820 sweepstakes and lottery scam reports in Scam Tracker in 2017, with a median loss of $500. Seniors are the most frequent targets and suffer the largest losses by far in these scams, which the report found commonly originate in Jamaica, Costa Rica and Nigeria.

Among the report’s key findings:

• The majority of lottery or sweepstakes scam victims are between 65 and 74 years old. Among that age group, people who recently experienced a serious negative life event, and who expect their income in the near future to remain steady or decline, are even more likely to be victimized.

• Sweepstakes/lottery fraud can strike through many channels – phone calls, text messages, pop-ups on a smartphone’s Internet browser, social media and mailings.

• In 2017, 2,820 people reported sweepstakes and lottery scams to BBB Scam Tracker. These reports show a median loss of $500. Wire transfer was the most frequent method of payment.

• Jamaica is a major source of “cold calls” to victims who are told they have won money. The scam has had a major impact in Jamaica, where the amount of money generated by lottery fraud has resulted in gang wars between rival fraud groups, leading to a dramatic spike in violence. More than 95 percent of reported fraud in Jamaica involves lottery or sweepstakes scams.

BBB offers the following tips for consumers to avoid being caught in lottery or sweepstakes fraud:

• True lotteries or sweepstakes don’t ask for money. It is illegal for a prize company to require payment of money in order to release a prize you have won to you.

• If you are unsure of a prize notice, call the sweepstakes or prize 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.

• Some prize scammers use the names of law enforcement agencies (and even the BBB!) in their notifications. Law enforcement nor the BBB are involved with awarding 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. Also report the scam to your BBB so that others may be warned!