Foreign lotteries are not the ticket for U.S. citizens

POULSBO — They’re illegal.

But many Americans still choose to participate in foreign lotteries — though most end up getting burned.

This week, Poulsbo Police Department Detective Grant Romaine is alerting North Kitsap residents to the many faces of foreign lottery scams. U.S. law prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets but millions of solicitations still reach American consumers each year by phone or direct mail.

Besides being against the law, the Federal Trade Commission reports that most foreign lottery solicitations are scams. Solicitors, most of whom are based in Canada, claim to be from a particular foreign county and offer to buy Americans lottery tickets if they send money. But the thieves never deliver or use the money to buy tickets and keep the winnings for themselves. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service estimates that U.S. citizens lose $120 million each year on the prospects of instant wealth promised in the ads — and some lose much more.

Sometimes, the foreign lottery “offers” are Nigerian scams. Romaine explained that solicitors tell the victims they have won a large pot of money, send a check and instruct them to deposit it and return a portion of the amount as a “processing fee.” The only problem is that the check is a fake and if the person deposits it and withdraws the “processing fee” before the forgery is found out, they forfeit their own money.

“They think since they won the lottery that everything is fine,” Romaine commented.

But there is a new side to foreign lottery scams, Romaine added. Recently, a Poulsbo resident received an unsolicited message from a scam artist claiming to be from a security company in Spain that said the individual had won a large amount of money in a foreign lottery. The document asked for such personal information as the person’s bank account and bank routing numbers, address, date of birth and name of a next of kin in order to begin processing the award. The Poulsbo resident who received the phony offer had never purchased foreign lottery tickets, suspected the offer was fishy and contacted police.

Romaine, who said he’d never seen such a foreign lottery solicitation before, explained the scam was solely targeted at committing identity theft. The information requested is all that is needed to open a credit card in someone else’s name.

“A lot more people are likely to respond to something like this because you don’t have to fork out your own money first,” Romaine said. “It’s very clever. They can open all the accounts in your name and it’ll be months before you realize your credit has been ruined.”

The FTC has the following to say about foreign lotteries:

• Playing foreign lotteries is a violation of federal law.

• There are no secret systems for winning and the chance of winning more than the price of your ticket are slim to none.

• If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment “opportunities” because your name is placed on a list that telemarketers buy and sell.

• Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself.

• If you have responded to a solicitation for personal information, assume you have become the victim of identity theft and request an identity theft packet from local police or from the FTC immediately.

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