(WOIO) - "Congratulations! You may receive a certified check for up to $400,000,000 U.S. CASH! One Lump sum! Tax free! Your odds to WIN are 1-6." "Hundreds of U.S. citizens win every week using our secret system! You can win as much as you want!"
Sound great? It's a fraud.
Scam operators — often based in Canada — are using the telephone and direct mail to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries from as far away as Australia and Europe. These lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.
Still, federal law enforcement authorities are intercepting and destroying millions of foreign lottery mailings sent or delivered by the truckload into the U.S. And consumers, lured by prospects of instant wealth, are responding to the solicitations that do get through — to the tune of $120 million a year, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, says most promotions for foreign lotteries are likely to be phony. Many scam operators don't even buy the promised lottery tickets. Others buy some tickets, but keep the "winnings" for themselves. In addition, lottery hustlers use victims' bank account numbers to make unauthorized withdrawals or their credit card numbers to run up additional charges.
The FTC has these words of caution for consumers who are thinking about responding to a foreign lottery:
- If you play a foreign lottery — through the mail or over the telephone — you're violating federal law.
- There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none.
- If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment "opportunities." Your name will be placed on "sucker lists" that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell.
- Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.
The bottom line, according to the FTC: Ignore all mail and phone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions. If you receive what looks like lottery material from a foreign country, give it to your local postmaster.
Foreign Lottery Scams
Very clever new twists on foreign lottery scams: Internet ScamBusters #115
Today's issue is about foreign lottery scams. You may think you'll never fall for any of these foreign lottery scams, but the new offline variants are so clever that we highly recommend you read this issue to learn about them.
It could also help you warn someone you care about from becoming a victim.
Before we get started, we've been hearing an unusual number of consumer complaints recently from people who have had bad experiences when they bought some product or service. For 9 tips on how to get the results you want when you have had a bad consumer experience, click here.
OK, let's talk about foreign lottery scams... Foreign Lottery Scams: Very Clever New Twists
Foreign lottery scams have been circulating online and offline for years, but they are mushrooming now -- and there are a couple of new, insidious twists to the old gimmicks.
The original foreign lottery scams simply proclaimed that you are a major winner in a foreign lottery (that you didn't enter, or at least you don't remember entering).
However, in order to claim your prize winnings -- often millions of dollars and always cash -- you must first remit a 'contest fee' to cover processing and taxes.
Needless to say, anyone who submitted the fee never saw that cash -- or the supposed windfall -- again.
What's more, unsuspecting victims may have given out banking or other personal information in the bargain.
The most popular foreign lottery scams supposedly relate to the UK lottery and the Netherlands lottery.
If you're not familiar with these traditional lottery scams, you can read about them here.
The most recent twists, however, are much more sophisticated. Here's how perhaps the most 'creative' one works:
You receive a letter that you won $50,000 in the Australian lottery. If you call, you're told you will receive a check to cover the taxes and/or fees, as well as additional instructions on how to collect your prize.
You then receive an overnight package that includes a check that looks real, in this example, for $2,650.
The check is supposedly issued in line with a federal law declaring that lottery winners must pay taxes and a processing fee on their winnings.
Prize officials include a letter with the check stating that winners can use these funds to make that payment, and then their 'windfall' check will follow in the mail.
The checks look very real, even to bankers who have seen them.
You're supposed to deposit the check and then write a check to cover the costs/taxes from your account.
Naturally, their check is bogus -- while yours is, in fact, real. And that's how you get scammed.
The fact that you are getting a 'real' check from a lottery foundation makes the Foundation seem quite credible. So if they ask you to pay more fees, or provide more information, it may be harder to refuse.
This new foreign lottery scam is actually a combination of the traditional foreign lottery scam and the international auto scam described here.
Why is this foreign lottery scam so particularly effective?
We believe there are three reasons -- it combines:
1. The desire and thrill of winning the lottery.
2. Credibility (a 'real' check arrived by FedEx).
3. The techniques scammers have refined with the international auto scam.
Two other less 'creative' foreign lottery scams are also making the rounds now:
One version also arrives by snail mail. Scammers invite U.S. consumers to purchase chances or tickets in foreign lotteries (often originating in Australia or Canada). Of course, they just need your credit card number or bank account info to process your purchase...
In the other version, scammers invite potential victims to send a check or call a toll-free number to purchase a secret system 'guaranteeing' lottery winnings.
Unfortunately, a scam is a scam is a scam.
If you want to be sure you're not the next victim of a foreign lottery scam, here are five tips:
1. First of all, playing any kind of cross-border lottery system is a violation of Federal law, and law enforcement officials ARE paying attention. IOW, it's illegal. Don't do it!
2. You can't win a prize in a lottery if you didn't buy a lottery ticket.
3. Real lotteries don't ask you to pay a fee. If you have to write a check to win a lottery prize, it's a scam. IOW, never, ever send any money for 'processing fees,' or share any other financial information, in order to claim a prize.
4. Never fill out any prize forms or 'claims' either through snail mail or online -- you may end up on scammers' 'sucker' lists as a result, which means you'll just get more solicitations.
5. Don't believe -- or pay for -- any 'secret systems' that will help you win lotteries. If someone really had a foolproof secret system to win lotteries, why would they sell it to you?
Please let the people you care about know about these clever new twists to foreign lottery scams so they don't get taken as well. Have a great week...