SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - The lure of a sweepstakes prize is powerful, but in most cases it's a prize for the person behind the scam. Not you.
We've all heard of the big names in sweepstakes: Mega Millions. Publishers Clearing House. This scam tricks people by using those names to gain trust into their bank account.
"I've been bombarded with telephone calls from different kinds of sweepstakes saying that I am a multi-millionaire," says Ozarks resident Betty McCarty.
From the phone to the mailbox, scam artists use every method possible. McCarty got a letter in the mail from "The Publisher's."
"I said oh-oh, another scam," explains McCarty.
It says she won nearly $4,000 dollars for placing third in a $10-million dollar prize drawing sponsored by Publishers Clearing House. But, that's not all. There was also a check for $3,956.77 enclosed. It looks like the real deal. The name on the check is a real gas station business in Texas. The bank on the check also is legitimate. But, why would a gas station be behind a sweepstakes prize? That was McCarty's first red flag.
"If Publishers Clearing house was going to send me a check, it would be from Publishers Clearance house, I'm sure," explains McCarty.
She took it to her bank and they told her not to cash it. She says she's just about had it with scam artists targeting people like herself.
"It's really kind of sad because there's a lot of elderly people out there that are really hurting right now. They think it's a chance to help my children, help my grandchildren," says McCarty.
Anyone can be a fraud victim, but the elderly are the most vulnerable. A survey from American Association of Retired Persons found 69 to be the average age of fraud victims.
"The elderly tend to be more trusting and sometimes, as you get older, you tend to forget things," says Judy Mills with the Better Business Bureau.
Here's a couple things to keep in mind with sweepstakes and winning prize money.
"If you've won the prize, it's their responsibility to get it to you. You shouldn't have to pay. If it says to pay for insurance, shipping and handling. That's another red flag," says Mills.
If there's money enclosed, look at the amount on the letter and cross-check it with the actual check.
"They send you more and say to deposit and send me the rest back. It's an overpayment and that's another red flag," she says.
If you're still unsure, take the check to your bank or someone you trust to look it over. As for McCarty, she just hopes scam artists will take the bullseye off the elderly.
"After a while it wears on them. It's a constant thing from different sources and it's nothing but a scam," she says.
Every year, more than 1,000 people are arrested for scamming residents through the mail. Mail fraud is a felony and carries up to five years in prison.