SIERRA VISTA — A local resident recently received a letter informing him of his good fortune to win more than $3 million in the Australian lottery. The only problem is that he does not play the lottery.
Keith Adrian chose not to try to collect his mysterious winnings by contacting the London-based phone number listed in the letter but is concerned someone else might act on it, he said.
“I have a friend who every time he gets one of these, he acts on it,” he said.
Once his friend did much more than call London, he went there in person in pursuit of promised money that never really existed, Adrian said.
Instead, his friend ended up getting lost and had to ask the London police for help.
This was the first time Steve Wilson, communications director for the Arizona attorney general’s office, had heard of this specific scam, but bogus foreign lottery scams have been around for years , he said. People need to be particularly mindful around the holidays because more people come out with these scams during this time of year.
“People tend to be in the holiday spirit … a little more accepting of some claims made by fraud artists who want to capitalize on people’s good feeling this time of year,” Wilson said. The struggling economy could also be a factor in making some people unusually susceptible to these scams.
Calling the number on the letter would be a terrific waste of time, would incur long-distance charges and would also put the victim at risk of providing personal information that could benefit the people behind the fraud, Wilson said. Even by just calling the number, the person gives up their phone number to scammers.
“Basically anything that is too good to be true, probably is, especially if they ask you to send them money to get money,” said Tracy Grady, public information officer for the Sierra Vista Police Department. This was the first time she had heard of the Australian lottery scam, and she recommends that people do a simple Internet search if they think something is a scam.
It’s likely that many others have already reported it, she said.
The state attorney general’s office encourages people who are targeted by a scam to fill out a complaint form on the office’s Web site, www.azag.gov.
“Once we receive these complaints, then we can take appropriate action to look into them,” he said.
According to the Federal Trade Commission Web site, the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail is against federal law.
The commission provides the following advice to consumers who are thinking about responding to a foreign lottery notice:
• 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.