Foreign Lottery Scams Continue to Target Idaho Residents
BOISE – The United States Attorney’s Office and US Postal Inspectors have seen a recent uptick of sweepstakes fraud victims in Southeastern Idaho, to include the Pocatello, Montpelier and Preston areas. Inspectors’ last trip through the area to speak to victims discovered losses of over $70,000 due to foreign lottery scams.
Who Are Postal Inspectors?
The US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is the law enforcement, crime prevention and security arm of the US Postal Service (USPS), and is responsible for enforcing more than 200 federal laws in investigations of crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the US Mail, the postal system or postal employees. Postal Inspectors are federal law enforcement agents who conduct investigations of postal-related crime, such as mail fraud and theft, violent crimes against postal employees, revenue fraud, dangerous mail, illegal drugs in the mail, and child exploitation conducted via the mail.
Foreign Lotteries Are Illegal!
Federal law (18 USC 1302) prohibits mailing any ticket, share or chance in a foreign lottery. If you respond to a solicitation, your name will be forwarded to a mailing list used by scammers. You will continue to receive solicitations.
What is a Foreign Lottery Scam and How Does it Typically Work?
Typically, this is how the sweepstakes scheme begins: You receive an offer by mail to enter a sweepstakes, claiming you could win a car, computer, a vacation or lots of money. You fill out the questionnaire and include your contact information, and mail it back to the address provided. Soon thereafter, you receive a phone call, email or mail stating you’ve won a cash sweepstakes/lottery and perhaps even a car.
However, in order to claim the prize, you need to send payment for taxes, processing, legal or customs fees. The payment is usually requested to be mailed to another US address, Jamaica/foreign country or wired to another person in the US or to another country.
The fraudsters gain victims’ trust through frequent phone conversations. Many victims tend to be older Americans, who are generally polite and trusting. Some are lonely, and enjoy the personal contact with someone they believe to be a “friend.” They have a hard time believing they’ve fallen for a scam, but these crooks are relentless and demanding. They may even threaten, coerce and use psychological intimidation to make victims give up their money.
How Can You Recognize an Illegal Foreign Lottery?
● Scammers mail letters to confirm victims’ winnings. Victims may be solicited via the mail.
● Victims are solicited by phone through heavy-handed marketing tactics and incessant calls.
● Victims are asked to pay fees, duties or taxes before they can collect their winnings.
● Once a victim responds to a solicitation, the scammer continues to contact them, asking for additional payments and promising even greater winnings.
● Scammers from other countries, such as Jamaica, Nigeria, Holland, Canada and the Philippines, target US victims.
● Scammers from overseas use Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) devices allowing them to disguise their international number and make it appear as if it were a domestic call coming from a US area code.
● Victims are typically asked to mail cash or wire money via Western Union or MoneyGram overseas.
● Recipients of cash payments are either co-conspirators, foreign nationals residing in the US or other victims who have become unknowing participants.
Improve Your Odds
Older Americans are often targeted by scammers. Speak with your older loved ones about the consequences of foreign lottery scams. A few protective- measures taken with their consent, and a simple conversation about avoiding scams could be the key to preserving their financial well-being.
● Confirm frequent unknown domestic or international calls
● Monitor all accounts for unusual activity
● Identify unknown and recurring payments
● Discuss repeated wire-transfer patterns of checks made out to cash
● Take notice of stacks of sweepstakes offers or prize notification letters around the home
● Talk about changes in living conditions-living beneath one’s means, past-due bills, etc.
● Do not answer the phone. It may be best to change your phone number.
You can report fraud online at postalinspectors.uspis.gov or get a copy of Form 8165, Mail Fraud Report, at your local Post Office. You can also file a complaint by calling 877-876-2455 (option 4).