If you receive an e-mail informing you that you have won a major prize in an international lottery, be skeptical. Lottery scams are one of the most common types of e-mail scams.
The details of lottery scams vary, but most e-mails contain the same basic information:
- when and where the drawing was held
- the ticket numbers
- the sponsoring organization
- the payer's phone and fax numbers
- the amount of the prize
Don't be fooled - sometimes the names of real companies are used by those running these scams.
How lottery scams work
To verify your identity and process your winnings, you may be asked to provide banking details, personal information, and copies of your driver's license or passport. If you do so, the scammer will have enough information to steal your identity.
In many cases, the scammers send the victim a check to pay for processing fees and request that the victim deposit the check to their account and then return a large portion to the scammer by wire, MoneyGram or Western Union.
Sooner or later, the scammers will request some sort of advance fee to cover administration, legal or delivery costs. Just remember that legitimate lotteries never ask for money. There are no fees of any kind.
Occasionally, the scammers give victims the option of opening an account at a particular "bank" as an alternative to paying the advance fees. This fake bank will insist on an initial deposit as a requirement for opening the account.
Lottery scams are not limited just to the Internet. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers have reported receiving such solicitations by letter or phone call.
What to do if you receive a lottery scam e-mail
If you receive one of these scam e-mails, it is important that you do not respond to it in any way. The scammers are likely to act upon any response from those they see as potential victims. Plus, playing a foreign lottery is a violation of federal law.
If you already have responded, stop all communication immediately. If you have supplied any personal information, you may be at risk of becoming a victim of identity theft. You should report your credit or debit card information as stolen to your credit union, and contact the the three major credit bureaus
and ask them to put a "fraud alert" on your accounts.
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