Consumer Alert: foreign lottery scams target elderly

This is National Consumer Protection Week: a nationwide campaign to inform and encourage consumers to take advantage of their rights, and make informed decision.

It's important to know the warning signs of consumer scams.

Many consumers have fallen prey to foreign lottery scams and lost thousands of dollars.

Scam operators use the phone and mail to lure them in with the promise of instant wealth.

Pamela Durkee, US Postal Inspector, said that it was common sense not to believe the scammers. "How can you win something you've never entered?"

The victims, who never entered their names in a lottery, receive mail containing fake checks or a letter saying they had hit the jackpot.

To collect their winnings, they were told they had to pay a fee, a tax, or some other expense. In each case, they were paying their money for nothing.

Inspector Durkee said, "We're taking inspectors and some cases teams of inspectors to ports of entry to keep the mail from entering the mail stream."

Despite this effort, the solicitations that get through cost victims $120 million dollars in losses in just one year. The bottom line?

"Look at the post mark," Durkee said. "If it is from a foreign country I would be suspect. Foreign postage is a huge red flag."

Conmen also use the phone. Telemarketers "guarantee" that you have won valuable prizes like vacations, cars, or cash. But again, tehy ask for a bogus fee up front. Sadly, they also prey on the elderly.

Durkee said, "These fraud operators will call them and befriend them and tell them what they want to hear and make them feel like they made a new friend."

At the end of the day, remember: lotteries just don't pay to people who never entered at all.

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