Details for Foreign Lottery Scams

Remember the old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is"? This is especially true of phone calls or mail solicitations offering instant wealth through foreign lotteries.

Here's an example of a lottery scam:

Congratulations! You may receive a certified check for up to $400,000,000 U.S. CASH! One Lump sum! Tax-free! Your odds to WIN are 1-6. Hundreds of U.S. citizens win every week using our secret system! You can win as much as you want!

Of course, all you need to do is provide your credit card number or bank account number to purchase the lottery tickets. And when you do, the lottery hustlers will make unauthorized withdrawals or run up charges on your credit card. You'll never get the lottery tickets you were promised.

The FTC has these words of caution for consumers who are thinking about responding to a foreign lottery:

  • If you play a foreign lottery — through the mail or over the telephone — you're violating federal law. There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none.
  • If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment "opportunities." Your name will be placed on "sucker lists" that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell.
  • Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.

The bottom line, according to the FTC: Ignore all mail and phone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions. If you receive what looks like lottery material from a foreign country, give it to your local postmaster.

Other lottery scams proclaim that you are a winner in a foreign lottery (which you didn't even enter). All you have to do to collect your winnings is send a "contest fee" to cover expenses associated with the lottery and taxes. You're also instructed not to tell anyone that you have won the lottery - especially bank employees, or you will lose your winnings. If you send the fee, whether by mail or through a wire transfer, you'll never see your money or the lottery winnings again.

Another lottery scam involves overnight courier services to give the appearance of legitimacy. You receive a letter that you have won a lot of money (let's say $50,000) in a foreign lottery (typically Canada or Australia). You call the number in the letter and are told that in a few days you will receive a letter and a check to cover the cost of the lottery fees and taxes. The letter arrives by overnight courier service (like FedEx) along with a check (let's say it's for $2,200). The letter explains that the fees and taxes are part of federal law, and you can use the check to cover the costs.

Since the check looks very real, you deposit it into your account and then, as instructed, you write a check out of your account for the fees (or you wire transfer the fees). Of course, their check is fake and now you're out the $2,200.

Here are five tips from about these scams:

  1. First of all, playing any kind of cross-border lottery system is a violation of Federal law, and law enforcement officials ARE paying attention. It's illegal. Don't do it!
  2. You can't win a prize in a lottery if you didn't buy a lottery ticket.
  3. Real lotteries don't ask you to pay a fee. If you have to write a check to win a lottery prize, it's a scam. Never, ever send any money for "processing fees," or share any other financial information, in order to claim a prize.
  4. Never fill out any prize forms or "claims" either through snail mail or online -- you may end up on scammers' "sucker" lists as a result, which means you'll just get more solicitations.
  5. Don't believe -- or pay for -- any "secret systems" that will help you win lotteries. If someone really had a foolproof secret system to win lotteries, why would they sell it to you?

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