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International lottery scams promise big cash, then take yours

Jul 19, 2004, 8:18 am

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In case you haven't caught up with international lottery scams yet, you'd better learn how they work.

The biggest fraud now chasing millions of gullible Americans is a scam claiming to be the Multi-State Mega Millions Lottery. Here's how it works:

You receive an e-mail or letter from a guy who claims to be the lottery promotion manager, congratulating you because you've just won $5.5 million in their latest drawing. How come? Because your address was attached to the 12-digit winning number, and you're among 17 national winners from 50,000 names in Australia, North America, Europe and Asia.

He says your money has been deposited with a "security company" in your name, and all you have to do is contact the lottery's claims officer by a certain date. He also requests that you "keep this award strictly from public notice until your claim has been processed and your money remitted to your account."

Add this is to similar scams that have been operating out of Nigeria, England and the Virgin Islands, and you've got the most massive frauds the world has ever seen.

Once you contact the "claims officer," as the letter instructs, they send back a "claims form to verify your identity." They ask you to supply personal details about yourself, such as your address, workplace and next of kin, along with copies of your passport and driver's license. Next, you're requested to send money -- often $2,000 or $3,000 -- one of three ways to cover fees for taxes, insurance and even legal costs: 1) by Western Union to a bank account, which may turn out to be false; 2) by opening a new account; or 3) by personally visiting their office overseas and handing over the money personally. Often you're required to pay a "release fee" to get your winnings, which turn out to be counterfeit money. After that, you never hear from those guys again, plus, your ID has been stolen.

The trick, of course, is that you're required to pay upfront for all those "processing" fees before you get your hands on the big dough. It's the best way to identify that something fraudulent is afoot. Experts familiar with these fraudsters say they usually wait until the "win" recipient is sufficiently interested before they contact him asking for money.

Little wonder that the FBI has also turned its sights onto these international crooks.

Other scam operators use phone and mail solicitations to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries in Europe and Australia. But, says the Federal Trade Commission, this violates U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.

"Most promotions for foreign lotteries are likely to be by phony money scam operators who don't even buy the promised lottery tickets," FTC adds. "Others buy some tickets but keep the `winnings' for themselves. Lottery hustlers use victims' bank account numbers to make unauthorized withdrawals on their credit card numbers to run up additional charges."

The bottom line is to ignore all mail and phone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions. If you receive one, give it to your local postmaster or contact your state attorney general. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit or call toll-free 877-382-4357. The FTC enters all fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel (, an online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Experts warn, "Do not send any money or personal details to anyone who says that you have won a prize or anything else in a sweepstake[s] that you have not personally entered. Such claims are almost certainly frauds."

Finally: How can you win a lottery or sweepstakes if you never purchased a ticket?

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