The phony promise of a lottery jackpot has long been among the most successful scams, ensnaring victims even when the “lucky winner” has never visited the foreign country that supposedly sponsored the drawing.
But while thousands of Americans continue to be tempted by bogus prize notifications from the Irish National Lottery, Australian Lotto and scores of other overseas games, there are others that are just as dangerous—lottery scams in our own states.
Bogus state lotteries began to surface last year, one of several new spins on fake lotteries. In a recent ruse, e-mails inform recipients that they have won a $500,000 “South Dakota Web Lottery.” Although the message contains the state lottery’s correct street address to give it a sense of authenticity, the contact “claims agent” is a scammer.
These smooth-talking agents elicit personal and banking information from the e-mail recipients, or persuade them to send an upfront payment for processing fees or other supposed expenses.
“Foreign lottery and sweepstakes scams are unfortunately common scams, but this is the first one we’ve seen that uses the South Dakota Lottery to lure victims,” state lottery director Norman Lingle said in a prepared statement.
In Colorado, citizens are receiving letters via U.S. mail containing the authentic state lottery logo, a Denver mailing address, and a “teaser” check supposedly deducted from the alleged $85,000 prize—the recipients’ names may have been harvested from other sweepstakes they have entered. But cashing that counterfeit check “may give a scam artist access to your personal bank account information,” warns Colorado Lottery director Jack Boehm. And once the check bounces, the funds must be repaid to the bank, including any portion sent to the scammers ostensibly to cover expenses.
Since early spring there has been a new wave of phony prize notifications, and new concerns.
“As consumers struggle with hard times caused by the economic downturn, they may be even more tempted to respond to false announcements they receive informing them that they have won a lottery,” explains Gov. David A. Paterson, D, of New York, where citizens are being contacted by telephone, fax, e-mail and even mobile text messages about phony lottery winnings. “Our advice to those who receive notices that they’ve won a lottery they didn’t enter is clear and simple: Don’t respond!”
That’s good advice, and here’s more:
• If you didn’t buy a lottery ticket from an authorized vendor, you didn’t win, plain and simple. No legitimate lottery will ever contact you; it’s your responsibility to notify the state lottery commission, with the winning ticket in hand.
• You never have to pay upfront fees of any kind to claim a legitimate state lottery prize.
• Be suspicious of people who approach you offering to sell a winning lottery ticket (often, the excuse is that they are in this country illegally). This ruse is especially common in Florida and has claimed many older victims.
• See the list of known phony lottery games. There are always new ones emerging, but if your “jackpot” is from one of these, it’s a sure bet it’s a scam.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of "Scam-Proof Your Life" (AARP Books/Sterling).