These scams can and do catch all ages, but they're targeted heavily toward people over the age of 65.

Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) says that these scams have become even more insidious because scammers are using COVID-19 as a cover to take even more money from their victims.

So, what are the lottery, sweepstakes, and/or prize scams?

The way Dennis explained it to me, scammers will make contact with potential victims by phone, email, regular mail, or even social media. They'll explain that the victim has won a substantial sum of money from the lottery, or some sweepstakes that they supposedly entered.

And, it's not always money that's used to lure in victims. Some scammers tell people they've won luxury cars, laptops, or other high-end merchandise.

They then tell victims that in order to claim their winnings, the victim must pay some fees. One victim was told that she'd won millions in the Mega Millions jackpot. The scammer told her that the taxes had already been paid, and that all she needed to do to get her money was pay $500 in "attorney fees." That $500, which she paid, turned into another request for more money, then another, and another. She wound up losing thousands of dollars and never saw a cent of the "lottery winnings."

She's not alone. Many lottery scam victims keep sending money for weeks or months, thinking that each step is the last one before they get their winnings.

How much money are people, particularly seniors, being scammed out of? According to the BBB:

Of the 4,417 sweepstakes and lottery scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker since 2018, nearly half, or 1,980, came from victims over the age of 65. This age group lost $2.52 million of the $3.1 million in losses reported to Scam Tracker, representing more than 80% of the money lost to this fraud. Combined FTC and IC3 complaints reflect losses of $112 million in 2017, $182.6 million in 2018, and $170.4 million in 2019.

To learn more about how these scams work, and how you can avoid becoming a victim, click here to read the BBB ScamTracker report.

And, please pass along this information to some of your older friends and family members to make them aware of these scams. You may save them lots of money, time, hassles, and embarrassment.