| A 74-year-old retiree in California thought she'd won big. A flashy letter, purportedly from Mega Millions, said that she'd won $2.5 million and a brand-new Mercedes-Benz convertible. To claim the prize, she was told to call a phone number shown in the letter.
So in July she dialed the number as instructed — but she has yet to see a dime in prize money. Instead, she's lost about $16,000 to the fraudsters behind what is a long-running crime scheme that often ensnares older Americans.
The Californian, a retired public school teacher with a master's degree, did not wish to be identified by name. She says when she called the phone number, she was told she'd won the “prize” in a random drawing of customers who had shopped at Target or Walmart.
Mega Millions, in fact, is a game of chance run by a consortium of lotteries in 45 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In an advisory in March, Mega Millions officials warned that scammers have falsely claimed to be affiliated with its lottery.
"No representative of Mega Millions would ever call, text or email anyone about winning a prize,” the advisory says. The lottery sometimes sends letters, such as when people enter a second-chance lottery, but never asks people for payments, says Nina Jones of the Florida Lottery, part of the consortium.
Scammers are after cash, personal information and bank account numbers, the advisory notes, and bad actors often target older people and “have been known to wipe out victims’ retirement savings."
Authorities say it's common for fraudsters to hijack the names of legitimate lotteries and businesses.