Demopolis Police warn citizens to be wary of scam

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 24, 2005

“You’re a winner!” Many people have opened the mailbox and been greeted with this reassuring phrase in bold letters on an envelope.

Actually, the odds are far greater of becoming a big loser, especially in your pocket book.

Scam operators, often based in Canada, are using the telephone and direct mail to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries from as far away as Australia and Europe.

Demopolis Police Detective Sgt. Tim Soronen said the River City is also falling victim to a circulating mail fraud scheme.

“There is a scam coming around which in an International Lottery Scam,” Soronen said. “They tell people that they are going to need you to send them some money as a clearance fee and they will send you a check for a larger amount of money.”

Soronen said the check will come, but it is as worthless as the envelope it arrives in. Soronen said the problems reach their peak when people head out to cash their major award.

“After you cash that and it wires it back to them you find out that it is counterfeit and you have to pay back the money you cashed it for,” Soronen said. “Then you have lost the money you sent them and have no prize money either.”

Soronen said this scam follows the stereotypical format of coming from another country.

“They come out of Canada,” Soronen said. “It s called International Sweepstakes Lottery. ”

Soronen said people should always be wary of anyone who makes promises to give you something for a small fee or nothing at all.

“There is no such thing as anyone that wants you to send them a fee to win money,” Soronen said. “They prey on the fact that some people may need money and will send them a little hoping to get more. We have had several cases of it in the Demopolis area. People need to be wary of anything that comes in and appears to be from overseas or another country. We just wanted to let people know.”

The first red flag should come when recipients see the mail comes from outside the United States. Lottery solicitations such as this violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.

Federal law enforcement authorities are intercepting and destroying millions of foreign lottery mailings sent or delivered by the truckload into the U.S. And consumers, lured by prospects of instant wealth, are responding to the solicitations that do get through-to the tune of $120 million a year, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Soronen said the checks look authentic, which leads many to believe the operation is legitimate.

“When something like this shows up in your mail people get excited,” Soronen said. “But it is a counterfeit check. It looks to be real and the tracking numbers are close, but it is counterfeit.”

Soronen said once the checks have been cashed and found to be fraudulent the burden falls directly on the individual who cashes it.

“It takes about three or four days to get the check processed once it is cashed,” Soronen said. “By the time it shows up counterfeit these people are gone and you never hear form them again.”

Soronen said if anyone suspects they have been a victim of a scam, or if they just want to check organizations credibility, give the department a call.

“Just be wary and if they feel they have been the victim of a scam please call us,” Soronen said. ” If they even have a question about whether something is legal, real or a lottery scam we can check into it first just to make sure.”

The FTC has these words of caution for consumers who are thinking about responding to a foreign lottery:

_If you play a foreign lottery-through the mail or over the telephone-you’re violating federal law.

_There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none.

_If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment “opportunities.” Your name will be placed on “sucker lists” that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell.

_Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.