Lottery Scams - How to Spot them and Avoid them

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Every day, we see hundreds of emails which are generally spam, inviting us to invest in the latest "hot tip for making money online" or buy viagra or some other sexually enhancing drug.  Spam can normally be readily identified and if you have a good Internet Security package on your computer, such as Norton Internet Security, then they can be removed before they reach your inbox, or just marked as "SPAM" and placed into another folder, so that you can check in case valid emails have been caught.

Of much greater concern are scam emails, which either try to get you to click onto a spoof website (such as one that looks like ebay, or PayPal but is actually a site designed to gather your logon details).  This is known as website phishing, and again is generally caught by Norton Internet Security and the use of the latest versions of popular internet browsers.

However, thousands of people continue to get caught out - particularly where their bank account (or ebay account) is threatened with closure - the simple answer to phishing is that if you receive what appears to be a genuine email, but gives you cause for concern, log onto your account by going directly to the bank's website in the normal way - do not just click on a link provided in an email.  If there are any issues, then you will be warned when you log on - if not, then there is generally a means of forwarding the spoof email to the bank's fraud department.

Simple rules to protect you against Spam and Phishing are simple 1-2-3:

1) Only ever log onto your accounts using the company's published website address

2) Install some good internet security software to protect your privacy and to identify phished sites (such as Norton Internet Security) and also to identify and delete SPAM email

3) NEVER click on an email link to a site which holds personal or financial information

Another common scam is linked to online dating websites where you are contacted by someone who is supposedly in the UK or USA according to their profile, but when you talk to them, you find that they are currently out of the country on business (or have to go on short notice) - typically to Nigeria.  They are fairly easy to spot as they will soon ask you about your job and income, maybe if you own your own house, and start to express feelings for you at a very early stage.  Often their emails have slight discrepancies and you have to ask yourself, why, if they were born in the UK or USA, their English is not quite right.

Once they think that they have you believing that a relationship may be possible, they will explain that they have been robbed, or need money for their hotel bill because an agent who was with them has disappeared, promising to pay you back afterwards by cheque.  Often they will send you travellers cheques or similar, ask you to cash them and then send the money back to them by Western Union or similar.  This plays on the speed at which banks work, so that the cheques appear to clear, but some months later, your bank will contact you to say that it has transpired that the cheques were forgeries or stolen and you will have to repay the money.

This brings us onto another well known scam (why is it that so many of these operations work out of Nigeria), whereby we have been contacted by several people wanting to sell our products in a shop in Nigeria - they have a friend in the USA who will pay with a credit card for the goods.  Payment apparently goes through ok either by cheque or PayPal for example, but then after shipping the goods, again you will find that the credit card or cheque had been stolen, or a charge back is made, or they claim non-delivery and the money is taken back out of your account.  Simple solution here is to either use Moneybookers for international bank transfers; or insist on cash sent by international recorded delivery on the basis of the high bank fees for cashing a foreign cheque.  We are lucky in that many of our products are not general products that would be sold in a shop, so it soon becomes obvious that these people do not understand what the products are.

How to Spot a Lottery Scam

OK, so how does all this link to lottery scams?

Well they do not generally fall into any of the above camps, although a lot of anti-spam solutions will identify and remove these emails as well.  However, because you generally receive an email promising huge amounts of money, there are always people willing to take the risk and respond.  Generally emails informing you that you have won XYZ lottery or a free lottery based on a random selection of email addresses (provided by Microsoft for example) can readily be identified as a scam - ask yourself two questions:

1. Do you remember entering that lottery and providing your email details? Probably the answer is no.

2. How would a random lottery based on email addresses raise the funds to pay out a prize of a $1million (or whatever other sum is promised).

If you respond to these emails, it will all seem pretty genuine, until it comes to obtaining your details for payment - in common with what is well known as the "Nigerian Scam" (or 419 Advance Fee Scam), you will either be asked for payment of "a small fee" to cover banking and other transfer charges to release the money, or you will need to enter into a written agreement - remember that having given them your banking details, you are then providing them with your signature - hmm I wonder where all this might be leading??

One such email we received appeared as:

"Bienvenue � SWISS LOTTO via Internet:
Dotation estim�e pour les 6 bons num�ros de mercredi:
Ref. Number: 133/756/4509
Batch Number: 538901527-Bc68
Joker Ticket Numbers
Dear Sir/Madam,
We are pleased to inform you of the result of the Winner in our International Lottery Program held on the 10 of january, 2006. Your e-mail address attached to ticket number 521194 with serial number 3772-556 drew lucky numbers 7-14-18-31-45 which consequently won in the Joker category, you are among the 30 people who have been approved for a lump sum pay out of ONE MILLION NINE HUNDRED AND THOUSAND DOLLARS. ($1,950,000,00)
Due to mix up of some numbers and names, we ask that you keep your winning information confidential until your claims have been fully processed and your money Remitted to you. This is part of our security protocol to avoid multiple claims and unwarranted abuse of this program . All People were selected through a computer ballot system drawn from over 20,000 company and 30,000,000
individual email addresses and names from all over the world. This promotional program takes place every five years.
This lottery was promoted and sponsored by a conglomerate of some multinational companies in south africa as part of their social responsibility to the citizens in the communities where they have operational base. We hope with part of your winnings you will take part in our next year Ten million Dollars international lottery. To file for your claim, please contact our financial agent.
Reply Email :
phone: +27 73 768 9156
Remember all winning must be claimed not later than 31 of DECEMBER 2006. After this date all unclaimed funds will be included in the next stake. Please note in order to avoid unnecessary delays and complications, remember to quote your reference number and batch numbers in all correspondence.
an international passport or a driving licence scan and send to the agent
full names
full residential address
work address
direct tel phone number
all agents details are in our database. a cheque of $1,950,000,00 would be sent to you with the information the agent would received from you. so send the right information to your agent.
Furthermore should there be any change of address do inform our agent as soon as possible. Congratulations once more from our members of staff and thank you for being part of our promotional program.
Note: Anybody under the age of 18 is automatically disqualified.
Yours Sincerely,
International Lottery (co-ordinator)
N.B: Any breach of confidentiality on the part of the winners will result to
disqualification. Please do not reply to this mail.
Contact your claims agent now."