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Scams and Seniors: If You See Something Say Something

You may have heard of the phrase, “If you see something say something.” The intent behind this concept is that if the public looks out for each other and reports suspicious activity, crimes have a better chance of being prevented.

Recently one of ITRC’s advisors was shopping at his local grocery store. An elderly woman in front of him at the register was trying to buy $2,500 in gift cards. The cashier called the manager to the front because the store has a $2,000 limit on gift cards. While the employees were discussing the situation, the ITRC advisor politely interrupted asking the woman why she needed so much in gift cards. The elderly woman replied she had been contacted by US Bank regarding a sweepstakes she had won totaling $750,000 in cash. In order to collect her winnings she needed to pay $2,500 upfront in gift cards to cover the taxes. Our advisor immediately recommended she not make the purchase.

He explained that this was a scam, and that a valid lottery will not ask you to pay taxes or other fees upfront in gift cards or via wire transfer before receiving your winnings. The elderly woman was apprehensive at first saying she needed to complete this step to receive her prize. Our advisor elaborated on his role with ITRC and the commonality of these scams. The woman decided to not move forward with her transaction and was relieved that he intervened. She thanked him for speaking up and for saving her $2,500 dollars.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, lottery scams were the third most common type of fraud reported to them in 2017. In many cases, scammers will take the gift card approach because it is an untraceable payment. Meaning once you release the physical cards or card numbers, scammers will take the money and run. Leaving you with no way to link the crime back to a specific individual and out a significant amount of money. Sometimes ITRC hears about cashiers and other employees educating shoppers to help prevent these scams, but not every victim is so fortunate.

By speaking up when you see something suspicious or educating friends and family about identity crimes, you can help others minimize their risks. By taking a few minutes to politely address a situation, like that of this elderly woman, you too can help save someone a lifetime of woes.

If you or someone you know is a victim of a scam or identity crime and needs assistance, you can receive no-cost help from ITRC. Contact one of our expert advisors via phone or LiveChat today. You can also download our app.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: Help! My Parent or Friend is a Victim of a Scam

A lottery scam is still an ever-present threat despite high-tech cybercrime initiatives like hacking. These far more low-tech means of stealing from innocent victims take no skill whatsoever to accomplish, meaning they may be more likely to impact you than high-tech crimes. A Greenburgh woman has been arrested in connection with a lottery scam that authorities said bilked at least 30 elderly victims out of more than $1 million.

There are many different ways a lottery scam can manifest, but they all have a few things in common. First, there’s some “story” behind why they need you to pay a small fee in order to claim your outrageously high-dollar winnings. Second, they want access to your bank account to directly transfer your winnings to you.

The fees – Different versions of lottery scams have different reasons for this phony fee. It might be taxes on your new wealth, a “transfer” fee since the lottery originates in a foreign country, a currency exchange rate fee (again, due to the different country of origin), or a processing fee to transfer the money to you. In any event, it’s all fake. There’s no reason at all—not even taxes, which are paid after you accept the money and not before—to give anyone a payment in order to claim something you have won.

The account access – Scammers who claim you’ll receive a direct deposit or electronic transfer will ask for your bank account number, your routing number, and even things like your Social Security number or birthdate. The criminals have no intention of putting money into your account, but with the information they requested they can easily remove every penny you already have.

A lottery scam, fake sweepstake, and phony contest have some other common threads, and you can spot them before they strike if you understand a few universal truths:

1. You will never, ever win a contest of any kind if you did not enter it. That means the Jamaican lottery or the Facebook sweepstakes or any other phony contest is not going to send you millions of dollars.

2. There is no such thing as a transfer fee, upfront tax costs, or any other payment required for receiving the money you have already won.

3. Online contests should be treated with caution. There are some legal web-based outlets for selling lottery tickets within the US, but even those sites are coming under fire for being too similar to known but unrelated scams.

4. You do not have to “win” to be a victim. Officials have reported a marked increase in scams in which the thief claims he is a foreigner who bought a legitimate lottery ticket within the US, but that he cannot win because he is not a citizen. He offers to split the money with you if you will go claim the winnings but asks you for a hefty fee up front to ensure you do not run off with his ticket.

5. Ticket scams are another common threat, especially for sought-after sports events or sold-out concerts and theater performances. Beware of messages that claim you have won tickets (or have the opportunity to pay for a chance to win tickets) to March Madness, “Hamilton,” or any other exclusive event.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: The How and Why of Tax Identity Theft