Don’t fall victim to lottery-winning scams

02/11/2012 5:00 AM

02/11/2012 7:26 AM

Few of us can resist the appeal of winning something for nothing, or at least for very little. That’s the part of human nature that keeps lotteries in business and it’s also what keeps lottery scammers in business. The Better Business Bureau has listed lottery scams among its top ten scams of 2011. More than 120,000 people submitted complaints about lottery schemes in 2010, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Lottery or sweepstakes scams usually follow one of two patterns. In one, the scam perpetrator contacts a person by phone, e-mail, letter or fax with the news that a large sum of money has been won. They may claim to represent a government agency, a well-known celebrity or even a familiar sweepstakes such as Publishers Clearing House.

All they require is that the “winner” send some money back to them either for taxes or as a processing fee. Sometimes they may request some of your personal information like a credit card or a bank account number. That is the last you will hear from them. No gigantic check is delivered to your door. No prize money is deposited in your account. Your “lucky day” has become a luckless nightmare.

In the second version of lottery scams, you receive an unsolicited check or money order as your “winnings.” They simply ask that you wire a portion of it back to them quickly to cover “taxes.” Later the original check or money order turns out to be counterfeit. So in addition to having lost the amount of money that you wired to the scammer, you are responsible for paying the bank for all of the money you withdrew.

Besides these two common forms of lottery scams, a new twist has shown up recently. An e-mail may be sent which claims the recipient has won a trip to the 2012 London Olympics from an overseas lottery. But first, some money must be wired to the scammer. The Federal Trade Commission states that it is illegal for an American citizen to enter a foreign lottery unless you are in the foreign country at the time you purchase the ticket.

Genuine winners of sweepstakes are notified by certified mail, not e-mail, and no legitimate lottery or sweepstakes requires a fee in order to collect your prize.

Consumers should resist the attraction of such notifications that sound too good to be true. Keeping these tips in mind will help:

•  You cannot win a prize from a lottery that you did not enter.
•  Do not send money to people or organizations you do not know. Never withdraw or send funds from a check in your account until that check has cleared.
•  No genuine sweepstakes or lottery requires any sort of fee before you can receive your winnings. Tax payments on winnings are paid directly to the government, not to a third party.
•  Never reveal personal bank information to unknown individuals or businesses. Identity fraud usually results.
•  It is illegal to play foreign lotteries.
•  If it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. Don’t doubt the legitimacy of this age-old truism.

The day you become a victim of lottery fraud is not your “lucky day.” It is the lucky day of a scammer. If you have questions or concerns about a suspicious sounding notification from a lottery or sweepstakes, contact your Better Business Bureau for advice.

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