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Legal Notes: Foreign Lottery Scams

older person (gender unknown) looking at face of phoneRecently, an investigative reporter interviewed a retired school principal who was a victim of a Jamaican lottery scam. Over time she gave about $27,000 to the scammer. Other victims of these scams lost their entire life savings. The scam begins with a telephone call mailing or informing the victim that they have won a large amount of money in a lottery. The scammers then inform their victims that they first need to send a certain sum of money for “fees” and/or “taxes” on these “winnings” before receiving the funds. Once a person responds and sends money, the scammers continue to repeatedly request more funds, with each request giving differing types of bogus reasons to release the funds. The scammers may also send a victim a fake, authentic-looking check that they claim is to pay for the fees or taxes. The victim is instructed to deposit this check into their bank account. That fake check will definitely bounce. By the time it is discovered that this check is fraudulent, the funds have already been collected by the scammers from the victim’s account, and the victim is responsible for the amount of the check and for the bounced check fees.

Victims can become angry and distrustful of the very people who are trying to help them.

These scammers are excellent con artists and can be very charming and very convincing.  They may send very official looking documentation complete with legitimate looking stamps and seals. There may also even be a call from someone claiming to be a legitimate governmental authority. Their victims are not necessarily people who suffer from cognitive impairments.  Many are competent adults, who are well-educated, well-read, and intelligent. Victims of these scams can be anyone of any age, but older adults are usually targeted. Family and friends can become estranged from victims because they were unable to convince the victims that they were scammed. Victims can become angry and distrustful of the very people who are trying to help them.  

To prevent becoming a victim, never respond to any correspondence or phone call that claims you won a lottery or any contest that you never legitimately entered. If you already had phone contact with a scammer, hang up when called again. It is not rude to hang up on a criminal. Foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S. and playing a foreign lottery is a violation of federal law. Furthermore, winners of legitimate contests or legal lotteries are never required to pay any fee or pre-pay taxes on any winnings at all.