In recent years, instances of foreign lottery fraud have continued to rise. Fortunately, more and more consumers across the U.S. and Canada have been contacting the Better Business Bureau to inquiry about the legitimacy of notices they received by mail and/or e-mail announcing they have won substantial sums of money in a foreign lottery. In fact, in 2006, the Better Business Bureau System received nearly 8,200 inquiries from consumers on foreign lottery scams, a 14 percent increase from the previous year.
In many of these fraud cases, the lottery notices are accompanied by a check or money order for several thousand dollars. Recipients are being instructed to deposit the checks and wire transfer all or portions of the money back to the company to pay for fees or taxes in order to receive their winnings.
The BBB does not want to see another honest, trusting person fall prey to a lottery scheme, and cannot stress too emphatically the dangers of responding to these types of correspondence. Even if no money is transferred to these organizations, simply providing an ID or bank account details to an unknown party makes consumers vulnerable to identity theft and fraudulent use of their bank accounts.
To help consumers identify a lottery scam, the BBB provides the following checklist:
- Was the lottery notification delivered to you by mail or e-mail? If you receive a winning lottery notification by regular mail or e-mail, there is a good chance it is fraudulent. Legitimate lottery companies will usually send winning notices by certified mail, Federal Express, UPS or DHL delivery services. On the other hand, if you have played the lottery online, you may be notified by e-mail. However, you still must log into your account to check your winnings and choose whether you want to be paid by check or by a credit to your credit card.
- Does the notification appear to come from another country? Organizations behind these frauds operate under different names, often derived from well-known lotteries in other countries. U.S. citizens should know that it is illegal to participate in a foreign lottery by using U.S. mail services.
- Were you sent a check or money order with your notification? Fraudulent promoters will sometimes send a check or money order along with notification to convince you they are real. While the checks and money orders may look official, they are counterfeit!
- Are you asked to wire transfer money or mail a personal check to cover some type of fee or taxes? Fraudulent promoters will ask you to deposit the check or money order and then instruct you to wire money or send a personal check back to them to cover what may seem like legitimate fees, such as processing, administrative, handling or tax fees. They also may instruct you to call a number to claim your winnings. When you do, they will try to get you to send money or ask for personal identification information that will undoubtedly be used for identity theft purposes. If you deposit a bogus check or money order in your bank account, keep in mind that you will be held responsible for any money you spend or send to anyone else.
- Does the lottery promoter’s name and address on the check match the name and address on the envelope? In many instances it does not. The company name is usually different on the check, the bank name on the check is fraudulent and the account number stolen – making the check a counterfeit. Sponsors of legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes identify themselves prominently on their checks and on the envelopes.
- Are the notifications sent by people claiming to be bankers, gaming officials, claims agents, tax collectors, attorneys, or a high ranking government official? Scam artists will use any number of titles in an effort to convince you that they are legitimate.
The BBB wants everyone to understand that legitimate lottery or sweepstakes companies will not ask you to send money in order to collect your winnings. They will not ask you for personal information.
Foreign lottery scams steal millions of dollars from unsuspecting people every year. If you receive any form of notification that you are a prize winner in a foreign lottery or sweepstakes, contact the BBB (www.bbb.org) and check it out before you become the next victim in this type scheme.