You're the Lucky Winner!

8/24/2003

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"Congratulations! Your name was attached to a ticket that was recently drawn - winning $315,000!" Sound familiar? Scam operators are using the telephone, e-mail and direct mail to entice U.S. consumers to participate in high-stakes foreign lotteries. Solicitations are coming from as far away as Australia, Spain, Germany and Canada.

Federal law enforcement authorities are intercepting and destroying millions of foreign lottery mailings that are delivered by the truckload into the U.S. Consumers lured by prospects of instant wealth are responding to the solicitations that do get through, to the tune of at least $120 million a year, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

In one variation of a foreign lottery scheme the consumer receives a letter or e-mail that states their name has been attached to a ticket number that was recently drawn, winning thousands of dollars. The letter or e-mail goes on to state, "Your fund is now deposited with a security company insured to your name. Due to a mix-up in some numbers and names, we ask that you keep this award top secret from public notice until your claim has been processed and your money remitted to your account as this is part of our security protocol to avoid double claiming or unwarranted taking of an advantage of this program by participants." The company also asks recipients to fill out a form with personal information, including banking information, so they can "deposit the funds." The winner is also urged to invest part of the forthcoming prize money in a larger international lottery. And, the winner is told he or she must wire "good faith" money to enter.

In another scenario, the winner will receive a counterfeit cashier's check for the first lottery "winnings." Before the bank has determined that the check is bogus, the victim has already wired money to enter the second lottery. The victim loses out on both ends of the deal.

The Better Business Bureau urges consumers to be cautious when dealing with foreign lottery solicitations. Consumers should ignore all mail, e-mail and phone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions. And, never give out your credit card or bank account information.

In most cases if you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment "opportunities." Your name or e-mail address will be placed on "sucker lists" that fraudulent companies buy and sell.

Consumers should keep in mind that playing a foreign lottery through the mail, over the phone or Internet generally violates federal law. If you receive what looks like lottery material from a foreign country, turn it over to your local postmaster.

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