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Foreign Lottery Scams: Convincing But Phony

A man in Western Maryland received a letter that said he had won $6.8 million in the Australian Lottery. The letter said his name had been selected by computer as part of an international promotion. He contacted a claim agent as instructed and was told to wire $1,500 to England to pay insurance on the winnings so the money could be released. He wired the money, but never received any winnings. The whole thing was a scam.

Unfortunately, many people fall victim to foreign lottery scams. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service estimates that these scams trick people out of more than $120 million a year.

Foreign lottery scams come in many forms. “Award notifications” arrive by mail or by e-mail, and sometimes people are contacted by telephone. The lottery may be described as being from The Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, Australia, Canada or another country. The one thing they all have in common is that the “winners” are asked to send money in order to claim their prizes, supposedly for taxes, processing, insurance or some other reason. Of course, they never receive any winnings.

In addition to losing the money they send, victims face the risk of having the con artists make unauthorized withdrawals from their bank accounts, if they gave them information that was supposed to be part of their “claim process.”

Why the scam is so successful:

Promises of big prizes are hard to resist. It's hard not to be curious and excited when someone tells you you've won a very large sum of money. Though you don't remember entering any such lottery, you think that perhaps you did and forgot about it, or perhaps the letter tells you that your name was entered in the lottery as part of a “promotion.”

“Official-looking” letters and language. The award notifications often look very impressive. They have fancy letterheads, and mention very specific details about the date of the lottery, the number of the winning lottery ticket, the name of your “claim agent” and special identification numbers you are supposed to give to make your claim. They talk about taxes, and insurance, and other things that sound like important legal information that must be told to a million-dollar lottery winner.

Sometimes a check is sent to pay for taxes on the winnings. In this twist, you may be sent a check or a money order that is supposed to pay for your taxes. You are instructed to deposit the check and then write a check from your account to pay for the taxes, and then the lottery winnings will be sent to you. Unfortunately, the check or money order you were sent turns out to be fake and bounces after you have already sent your check to the con artists.

You are instructed to keep the notification a secret until payout is made. Supposedly this is part of the lottery's “security protocol” but of course they really just don't want you to talk to other people and find out that it's all a scam.

There is usually a deadline to make you act fast. The notification usually states a date by which you must make your claim. Again, they hope they can get you to send money before you have time to check it out and find out it's a scam.

So, if you receive a letter congratulating you on winning a foreign lottery, just throw it away!

Offers to Buy Foreign Lottery Tickets

Another scam is when you are offered the opportunity to buy tickets in a foreign lottery. You may receive a mailing that promises to get you tickets through some kind of secret, guaranteed-to-win system. It is a violation of U.S. law to sell foreign lottery tickets by mail, and such offers are probably phony. Also, the Federal Trade Commission says that if you agree to purchase a foreign lottery ticket, your name will probably end up on a “suckers list” and you will be sent many more phony offers for lotteries or “investment opportunities.” If you are solicited to buy tickets in a foreign lottery, throw away the solicitation or give it to your local postmaster.

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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