March 3rd through March 9 is National Consumer Protection Week. It's a nationwide campaign to inform and encourage consumers to take advantage of their rights, and make informed decisions.
"I believed it was a real thing," said one victim.
"It looked so real...and that's when I got scammed," said another.
“They get information from you and then they take that information and use it against you,” said a third victim.
These consumers all lost thousands of dollars in foreign lottery scams. Scam operators use the phone and the mail to lure them in with the promise of instant wealth.
“How can you win something – you’ve never entered,” asked US Postal Inspector Pamela Durkee.
The victims, who never entered their names in a lottery, received 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, tax or other expense. They had no idea they were being targeted in a scam.
“We’re taking inspectors and some cases teams of inspectors to ports of entry to...keep the mail from entering the mail stream,” explained Durkee.
Despite the effor, the solicitations that do get through cost victims $120 million in losses in just a year.
Bottom line says Durkee, "Look at the post mark, if it is from a foreign country I would be suspect. Foreign postage is a huge red flag.”
When con men use the phone, the telemarketers "guarantee" the victims they have won valuable prizes like vacations, cars or cash. But again, they ask for a bogus fee upfront. Sadly, they often prey on the elderly.
“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,” warned Durkee.
If you ever get something in the mail that looks like lottery material from a foreign country, give it to your local Postmaster. And always use common sense: there's no way to win a lottery you never entered.