The reason it sounds too good to be true is that it’s very likely a scam. Con artists cheat Americans — many of them senior citizens — out of nearly $1 billion a year using foreign lottery schemes, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Here’s a typical example: Myrtle Johnson, a 75 year old widow, receives a letter telling her she’s won $50,000 in a lottery in Jamaica. Enclosed is a check for $5,000 as partial payment of her winnings. All she has to do to claim the rest is to wire back $1,000 to pay for taxes and processing fees.
The $5,000 check Myrtle receives looks legitimate. She only has to send $1,000 to claim her prize, so she thinks she has an extra $4,000 now, and she’ll soon have another $45,000. After depositing the check and wiring the money to lottery officials, she uses some of the funds to pay doctor bills and sends $1,000 to her daughter.
Several weeks go by. Myrtle has not heard anything from the lottery officials, but the letter warned her that it could take some time to issue the prize check, so she’s not too concerned. That is, until the bank manager calls to tell her that her account is overdrawn because the $5,000 lottery check was counterfeit. Because it was supposedly drawn on a foreign bank, it took Myrtle’s bank quite a while to get the notification that the check was bad.
Myrtle has already spent most of the $5,000, so she’s in big trouble. She calls the contact number listed on the lottery letter, but it’s been disconnected. The scammers have taken her $1,000 and moved on to their next victim.
What lessons did Myrtle learn from this experience?
- Never wire or mail money to anyone who says you’ve won a lottery. No legitimate lottery should ask you for money to claim your prize.
- Hang up the phone or discard the email if you receive an offer that sounds “too good to be true.”
- Make sure older friends and relatives know about these schemes so they don’t become victims.
- If you are a victim of a scam, report it to local police, and also to your bank and any other companies involved (for example, wire-service companies)
- To help lessen your risk of future fraud, ask your banker if you need to close bank accounts that were used.
Learn more about foreign lottery scams:
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.
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