Foreign lottery schemes may be fleecing Americans out of as much as a billion dollars every year. The problem is so vast, Congress is hearing testimony on the matter. one challenge for law enforcement is tracking down suspects who are often overseas. However, one astute postal employee helped to catch a bad guy right here in the United States.
Mary Santiago with the US Postal Service asked the right question.
"Something is not right here. Why are you getting all these Express Mail packages from all over the US?" she wondered.
Santiago knows her customers and suspected one was running a mail fraud scam based here in the U.S.
"I said I don't know what is going on, but she is getting Express mail from all over and it's usually once a week - it will stop - it will start up again. Something is not right here," said Santiago.
Postal Inspectors began tracking the Express Mail labels the suspect was signing and found a pattern. Here's how the scam works: Victims receive mail containing fake checks or a letter saying they hit a jackpot. To collect their winnings, they are told to pay a fee, a tax or other expense. The elderly are a prime target.
"They are preying on people who don't know any better so they can take advantage of them and use them as a pawn in their scheme," said Louis Diaz, a U.S. postal inspector.
A sting was set up. The suspect was told she had a new package to pick up. She came in and was caught red-handed.
"I don't know how anyone could do that to someone, people lose their houses, they take out second mortgages, I feel good that we caught her," said Santiago.
Inspectors say you should check to make sure your elderly family members aren't lured into a similar scheme.
"These people worked hard for their money as they get into their elder years, we have to keep an eye on those most vulnerable," said U.S. Postal Inspector Joseph Bunaskavich.
Postal Inspectors were able to return some money to the victims of this mail fraud scheme. It's worth repeating, no legitimate lottery will ask you for money up-front. Keep this in mind when you receive letters in the mail and especially emphasize the message to elderly friends, family and neighbors.