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US Postal Service warns of foreign lottery scams

March 4, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A letter you receive in the mail informs you that you've just won several million dollars in a foreign lottery. But now you've got to send them money for processing or taxes. It sounds like an obvious scam to most of us, but many seniors are falling for it every day.

"Violeta" doesn't want to be identified because she is so embarrassed about being ripped off by a foreign lottery scam.

"I responded to two people because they were convincing in a way that I won $2.5 million and a Mercedes-Benz," said Violeta.

Violeta was told she needed to pay an insurance fee to get her money. So she sent more than $1,000, which she never saw again.

A Monday news conference kicked off Consumer Protection Week. Postal inspectors said foreign lottery scams have bilked thousands of Americans out of millions of dollars. Seniors are usually the victims.

"We don't have the actual numbers," said Regina Faulkerson, assistant postal inspector. "The past three years has been over $42 million that we have been able to determine. Most of these crimes go unreported."

In what looks like a boiler room of telemarketers is actually far from it. Instead these are volunteers calling Southland seniors to warn them of various scams and rip-offs.

The scam usually begins with a letter saying that the recipient has won big. But to get the loot they need to send the scammers a processing fee or pay the taxes before they can collect their "millions." If they send any money they'll be contacted for more. In the meantime they get nothing in return.

No legitimate, reputable lottery will ever ask to pay money up-front. If you have to pay any kind of fees, then it's a scam.


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