investigative study of prize and lottery scams found
that between 2015 and 2017, more than 500,000 scams
resulting in more than $344 million in losses were
reported in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Better
in the BBB’s findings was the case of Ted Ruppert, a
St. Louis area man in his 80s who lost nearly $8 million
in a Jamaican lottery scheme.
scams typically involve direct paper mail, calls or
texts, or misleading pages on websites and social media
promising unclaimed lottery winnings or giveaways. Scam
targets, which are overwhelmingly elderly Americans, are
typically asked to provide personal information and
payments including shipping and security fees.
is one of the most common frauds operating today,"
said Michelle Corey, President and CEO of the BBB’s
Eastern Missouri & Southern Illinois division.
According to BBB’s Scam Tracker tool, at least 300
prize scams have been reported in the St. Louis region
since the start of 2018. The tool allows people to
report a business or offer that could be fraudulent to
the BBB to spur an investigation.
Costa Rican callers and Nigerian social media users were
large originators of scams, callers from Jamaica were
some of the most active, according to the report.
will typically imitate a professional organization or
company in a call or piece of mail. Once a victim gives
up their personal information, they’re put on a
"sucker list," which is sold to other
International Investigator Steve Baker said that on
Facebook, one of the more popular social media channels
for lottery fraud, scammers often impersonate Facebook
founder Mark Zuckerberg or even create imitation
profiles of the target’s friends to lure them into
will also sometimes pose as Publishers Clearing House
and ask people to pay fees to access their winnings,
Baker said, despite the fact that Publishers Clearing
House does not require this.
older people tend to be the most vulnerable, according
to the BBB, because they tend to have more money and
could be experiencing conditions including dementia or
age may have been part of the reason Ted Ruppert
continued to send money to scammers who said he won $60
million even after years of receiving no reward, said
Robert Hoffmann, a longtime friend of Ruppert’s who
attended a news conference Tuesday in St. Louis
announcing the study’s results.
first indication of this happening was Ted called me one
day, and asked to borrow some money," Hoffmann
said. "I’m thinking, what’s a guy that’s a
multimillionaire doing asking for money?"
months went on, Ruppert continued to pay various
subsequent "fees" to Jamaican callers who said
they would have the money delivered to his home, despite
the warnings from friends and assistants, the BBB said.
Once, when his secretary changed his phone number,
scammers had a pizza delivered to his house and used the
deliveryman to regain his contact.
said that Ruppert had been hoping to donate the winnings
to his alma mater, the Missouri University of Science
Postal Inspector Adam Latham offered some general tips
to recognize if an offer might be a scam: "Were you
told that you are the guaranteed winner of a lottery
prize? Were you pressured into responding right away? Do
you have to pay an advance fee to receive your prize?
And, particularly for the Jamaican lottery, did you
receive a call from the 876 area code, which is the area
code for Jamaica?"
who suspects that they have been the victim of a mail
scam can contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at
1-877-876-2455, and say "fraud" when prompted.