Fraud Alert, May 2009
Foreign Lotteries on the Rise
Americans continue to get fooled by foreign lottery scams that promise big payouts. The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office Fraud Hotline has recently seen an increase in calls from citizens who’ve been notified that they’ve won a lottery from a country they’ve never visited. Often these notifications include a very authentic-looking, bogus check. They ask you to deposit it and then to wire money to cover various fees and taxes.
District Attorney Scott Storey says, “The people that call us before they deposit the check, or wire the funds, are the lucky ones. Once money is sent, it cannot be recouped. And, depositing the inevitably counterfeit check results is additional bank charges you have to pay.” Foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S. These fraudsters are becoming more and more sophisticated; their documentation often looks very authentic. Storey says, “One scam we’ve seen lately is notification from the “Publisher’s Clearinghouse Lotto”. The title looks familiar enough to create a level of confidence in many.”
Notification by letter or email that you’ve won a foreign lottery, even when it includes a check, is bound to be fraudulent, regardless of how legitimate they look. The notification letters look very official.
Most of the foreign lottery schemes we are seeing now do not appear to target a particular age group. Victims range from 19-68. According to Storey, “One common link we are seeing is that the unsuspecting recipients are often unemployed and submitting resumes on online. Beware of applications requesting personal information like your Social Security Number.” Often these are simply “phishing” schemes to get your personal information.
If you receive notification through the mail that you’ve won a foreign lottery, do not throw away the envelope. If you also receive a check, do not deposit it. Do not call the phone number listed on the letter; it may be a 1-900 number with an exorbitant fee. You should start by contacting your local District Attorney’s fraud unit:
Jefferson and Gilpin Counties: 303-271-6980.
Boulder County: 303-441-3700.
Adams County: 303- 659-7720.
Arapahoe County: 720-874-8547
• Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-FTC-HELP, or visit their website www.ftc.gov
• U.S. Postal Service: 303.313.5320 www.usps.com
• National Fraud Information Center: 1-800-876-7060.
• Phonebusters (toll free): 1.888.495.8501 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (They’ll take a complaint and share the information with the FBI)
The National White Collar Crime Center found that nearly one in two
households (46.5%) report being the victim of financial crime in the past year and 62.5% report having been victimized sometime in their lifetime.
The U. S. Postal Inspection Service says that Americans lose an average of $120 million a year on foreign lotteries and sweepstakes.
Notification letters may say that your name was selected from a “random drawing”. “Don’t believe it,” D.A. Storey says, “You can’t win a foreign lottery unless you purchase a ticket in person, in that country. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Fraud Alert, June 2009
More about the Travelers
With the return of warm weather comes the return of Travelers. These predatory fraudsters travel across the country, often targeting areas recently ravaged by severe weather, tornadoes, hail storms, flooding or fire. Absent natural disasters, they target certain areas and certain groups of people. They move into an area, take advantage of unsuspecting, vulnerable homeowners, and move on often before law enforcement has time to act.
These smooth-talking scam artists can convincingly get themselves invited inside to deliver any imaginable sales pitch for products or services.
Vulnerable older adults who spend the majority of their time at home are perfect targets for these mobile scam artists. The preferred victim is a middle-class homeowner, over 60-years-old, who is unable to see or hear well. They may suffer from dementia or other related illness. Usually they live alone or with just one other person.
Travelers are intergenerational, professional thieves who often have received training in swindling techniques from their fathers and grandfathers. They travel from state to state and city to city offering home repair "deals" to unsuspecting consumers. They often follow natural disasters, targeting residential neighborhoods with older residents.
They travel in groups during daylight hours and generally in newer model, well-kept trucks or vans. Any business information on the vehicle is often printed on transferable magnetic signs that can be changed to fit the situation.
Often they use aliases, carry bogus identification cards and avoid contact with non-Travelers.
How the Scam Works:
It's not unusual for group of Travelers to drive around in your neighborhood for days, assessing the activity and people who live there.
Once a potential victim is identified, a scam operator may make repeat visits to the home, each time pressing the sale one step further. It's not uncommon for older adults to finally agree to purchase an item or service that they do not need resulting in an obligation to pay a bill that totals several thousand dollars.
Generally they claim to have just finished a job, have left-over materials and will make you a quite an "offer".
They may point out to the homeowner a series of "defects" with your house such as shoddy roofing, cracked driveways, or dangerous electrical wiring. Believing the bogus claims, the unsuspecting victim pays the con-artists a down-payment on repairs.
Predictably, the down-payment they require goes to a job that is never or only partially completed. Sometimes the scam artists may actually cause damage to the house ? using a screwdriver to puncture a hole in a heating duct, for example ? in order to document the need for their repair services.
Often, they pressure or intimidate their victims into paying much more than what was agreed upon when the job is completed.
They generally come out in the spring, unless of course you live in an area ravaged by a hurricane, flooding, fire or some other disaster that expands their pool of victims.
One scheme involves painting houses or an outbuilding. A very cheap grade of paint, which has been further cut by gasoline, kerosene or other thinning agents, is used. They have been known to take an empty paint can from a high quality brand of paint and pour the poor quality paint into the can, and claim that they used a high grade of paint.
A similar scam is often used with roof repair, when the quality of the materials is misrepresented.
The driveway repair is another scam. In most cases, the material used in asphalt paving consists primarily of reconditioned motor oil with a minimum amount of asphalt mixed in.
Gutter repair and tree trimming operations are also popular Traveler schemes.
Imposter schemes are also widely used throughout the U.S. Travelers have been known to approach a homeowner, and convince the homeowner that there is a problem with the utility services inside the residence. They may even wear uniforms that look authentic. Once inside, they steal money or items of value.
How to protect yourself:
- Beware of door-to-door contractors. Don't do business with someone who comes to your door offering you a "bargain", saying he has material left over from another job.
- In Colorado, anyone can be a licensed contractor. Ask for references from your friends or neighbors or call your local consumer advocated before making a decision regarding a contractor. In Jefferson and Gilpin counties, call Deb Ohno at 303-271-6980.
- Ask for proof that the contractor is bonded, carries liability insurance and covers his workers with workers' compensation insurance.
- The contractor's business card should have a verifiable street address and office phone number. Be cautious of those with only PO Boxes and answering machines.
- Call the Better Business Bureau for a report on the contractor.
- Obtain at least three written bids for work you want done. Don't automatically choose the lowest bidder.
- Require that the contractor use a written contract that lists materials to be used, charges, costs and the start and completion dates.
- Beware of contractors who want 50% down to "purchase materials". Find out who the supplier is and write the check directly to them. It is never required by law that money for be materials be paid up front.
- Don't make final payment until you receive a lien wavier. The lien waiver should indicate that the contractor has paid his subcontractors and suppliers, and that you are satisfied with the contractor's work. Be observant of activity in your neighborhood. Watch for strange trucks, vans or cars driving through or parked on your street. Write down license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles as well as their make and model. If you suspect a crime is in progress, call 911.
You as the consumer are in control of your choices in home repair and services. Choose a contractor you feel comfortable with, one with whom you can negotiate and work out details of the project.
For more information, or to schedule a Power Against Fraud Seminar, call 303-271-6980.
Last Modified: Oct 25, 2010 04:10 PM