LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Postal inspectors said thousands of people fall victim to foreign lottery scams each year. These scam operators are often based in Canada, and use telephone or direct mail to entice U.S. consumer to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries, according to the Federal Trade and Commission website. These lottery solicitations are illegal but every day people fall for them.
Karen Hendricks was one of those victims. She was told she had just won $5 million dollars, and her whole world was about to change. The caller told Hendricks all she had to do was pay the taxes and fees to claim her jackpot.
"They tell you to sit down because they have some good news for you," Hendricks said. "They convince you. They really make you feel like you're a winner."
After Hendricks paid the fees, she was told she needed to pay another fee. Hendrick said the caller even asked if she could sell her jewelry or take out a loan to pay the fee. Postal inspectors said Hendricks is one of thousands who fall victim to this trap every year.
"The fraudsters are vicious. They want to take anything they can from these poor seniors that are well just being duped into believing they won something," said Postal Inspector Frank Schissler.
Inspectors involved in Hendricks' case realized it intersected with another case in Las Vegas, and they were able to recover $800 but that is not always the case. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, consumers pay these solicitations close to $120 million each year.
Postal inspectors recommend you never pay a fee for something you have supposedly won, especially if they ask you to pay before you get your winnings. The Federal Trade Commission has these words of warnings for consumers.
1. If you play a foreign lottery through the mail or over the telephone, you are violating federal law.
2. If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment opportunities.
3. Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.
4. 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.