Beware illegal foreign lottery scams

by Natalie MacLellan on December 16, 2010

in Fraud Prevention

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It may just be the time of year. Everyone is sending like mad, and most everyone wishes they had just a little more room in their holiday budget. Maybe that explains why my email has been full of ridiculous lottery scams on the past few weeks.

The offers are coming to my personal address and my home address. They all read pretty much the same:

“We are writing to inform you that your email address has been chosen to win the UK National Lottery.” (Other countries are sometimes chosen, but the UK National Lottery seems to have a particular liking for me.) The letter lists a very large and tempting dollar amount. Last week I was also told I won a BMW.

The letter then explains that it is from a firm which has been hired by the lottery to distribute the winnings. To claim my prize I must pay a small administration fee to the firm, usually about 25 dollars.

Except of course, I work in fraud prevention. I know that those who do respond and pay are then placed on mailing lists for other scams, never receive their prize and are out $25 dollars. Or more. Often the scam does not stop there.

Next, the “winner” who responded might receive a letter from a phony collection agency, demanding payment for lottery ticket purchases. Of course, you know you never bought a lottery ticket in the first place. How then could you win? And why would you pay for it after the fact? But those duped into believing they have won will pay up, in fear of legal action, and losing their winnings.

My lottery scam invitations have been coming by email, but many still come by traditional post, and seniors are particularly victimized by this scam.

An interesting twist that I wasn’t aware of until a recent discussion with a colleague in the RCMP, is that participaton in foreign lotteries is illegal in Canada.

According to sections 206 and 207 of the Criminal Code, anyone who makes, prints, advertises, publishes or participates in a foreign lottery is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction. This is true even if the offer to purchase tickets is from Canada.

So next time a friend or family members believes they have won big in a foreign lottery, please remind them that there is a 99.9% chance this offer is a scam – and even in the rare case that it is not, it is illegal to participate and they could be charged.

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