It's a billion dollar business. Scammers send you a letter stating you have won a lottery, and ask you to send them a claim fee. You might even get an elaborate certificate like this one.
And it gets even harder to tell what is legitimate. Now they're enclosing checks, which the householder is told will cover the required insurance and processing fees. Problem is - you guessed it... they are counterfeit.
They try to convince you, your parents or grandparents - that everything is legitimate, so you'll deposit the check and wire back the fees as instructed in order to collect your winnings.
This couple are being sought after scamming an elderly woman in Hallandale Beach of $12,000. Photo: CBS Miami
The scammers split the cash after you wire the phony fees. Then the check bounces and your bank comes after you for their money. It's a sophisticated ruse that is causing victims to lose thousands of dollars.
"I've seen victims that have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Postal Inspector Jeremy Leder in Seattle.
Postal inspector William Dorroh with files of individuals being investigated. Photo: City Paper
"And they think so surely that they're going to win this grand prize, that the fraudsters keep saying, 'Well, just a little more money. A little more money and the prize is yours.'"
Leder says people need to understand these scams are actually international, organized crime rings.
Sadly, the majority of victims are older Americans who are won over by the smooth talking con artists.
And if you fall for the scam, your chances of getting your money back are less than your chances of winning a real lottery.
Points to watch out for:
- Remember that you can only win a lottery that you have actually entered. If you haven’t bought tickets for the lottery, you can’t win, so don’t let anyone tell you any different.
- No national lottery requires any form of processing fee before paying out a prize. This is simply a trick used by scam merchants to get hold of your cash.
- Don’t rely on information provided in a direct mailing, telephone call, email, text messages to authenticate anything. It is very easy for scammers to include an official address in an email from any other lottery site without permission. This makes it look official even when it isn't.
Remember, foreign lotteries by mail are illegal. So ignore any foreign letter you get claiming you've won money.