In July of 2015 the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, which operates casinos, lotteries and other gambling activities in the Atlantic provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland/Labrador and Prince Edward Island, found itself at the heart of the newest lottery con. Scammers were using ALC as a backdrop for a scam. The incident, which was widely reported in the press in July of 2015, serves as an example of what can happen when individuals accept the word of an official-looking letter and send money without investigating the circumstances of the letter.
Scammers have been using lotteries to run their scams for decades because people see the lottery as a venue where you can “get something for nothing.” The Atlantic Lottery scam is just the latest in a list of such schemes, but once again, people fell for the rip-off and thousands of dollars made their way into the cheaters coffers.
The scam targeted American citizens in the U.S. who received letters saying that the recipient won $35,000 from the ALC in an international promotional program. The letter promises that a check will be sent forthright upon receipt of a “release fee” and an applicable tax payment from the “winner.” The letter goes on to provide a contact name and phone number where the winner can access assistance with processing the payment.
ALC issued a fraud alert to publicize the scam, saying that “Phone numbers often go back to people involved with the scam, and they will indicate that your winning notification is legitimate.” ALC also points out that to win a lottery prize, you must have purchased your ticket from an authorized retailer in Nova scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Labrador or Prince Edward Island, or online through their PlaySphere website.
Canadian lottery corporations are not authorized to operate games or lotteries, including any of their online products, outside of Canada.
Lottery scams have existed for as long as lotteries have been in the public eye. Lottery enthusiasts are easy targets for scammers since the expect to “win.” The scammers’ marks vary as do the texts of their letters and phone calls and the amount of money that they try to extract form their victims. But little actually changes â€“ the goal of the scam is to trick people into thinking that they are on the verge of a payout and the “winner” either needs to send in some money to effect the payment or provide identity information. That, of course, then allows the scammers to steal the victims’ identity and take even more money from the mark.
Investigators point out that the average age of a mark is 74, meaning that senior citizens are most at risk of falling for the scam. These vulnerable individuals generally believe the best of people and are unprepared for the vicious tricks that are used to steal their life saving.
Investigators also note that the scammers become most active prior to a powerball lottery or some event in which awareness and hype is at its peak (which is when the ALC scam took place),
Social media has made the scammers’ job easier. Messages go out with exciting “updates” such as “I wasn’t going to put this on FB but I couldn’t hold it and I still can’t believe this!!!I won $1.5 billion. My family has been crying for hours” and “I am picking 10 random people who share this photo and giving them 410,000 each. Call me crazy but G-d is good! Follow me on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter.”
A popular social media scam, which continues to suck in thousands of victims every year, states that Mark Zuckerberg/Bill Gates/George Soros (take your pick) has decided to share their wealth/reward good people/reduce their own taxes (take your pick) and will be giving away hundreds/thousands/millions (take your pick) of dollars if you simply share/tweet/like (take your pick). Of course, once you share/like/tweet, George/Bill/Mark will get in touch with you and ask you to provide some money or information to collect your windfall. And that’s the scam.
These frauds become even more complex when the hoaxers hijack users’ social media accounts and send the messages out to a victim’s friends. The friends, seeing that the message has come from a trusted source, are much more likely to believe these tricks and contact the con artists which allows them to proceed with their con.
Be on your Guard
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigates claims of fraud in Canada and works to prosecute the perpetuators. You can report lottery frauds and other types of scams to the RCMP through their website at http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/scams-fraudes/index-eng.htm or through your local RCMP detachment.
Before you get to that point, you should keep in mind the ways that you can protect yourself against lottery fraud. Suggestions include:
- Don’t respond to any communication from individuals or organizations that are unknown to you. If you havenâ€™t entered a lottery, you didn’t win it. Lottery officials don’t contact “winners” â€“ you have to check your own tickets and contact the lottery to collect your win.
- There are no Canadian lotteries (or, as far as can be ascertained, lotteries in other countries) that collect fees in order to pay out on a win. If someone suggests that “as soon as you pay, you’ll collect,” report them
- There are no Canadian lotteries (or, as far as can be ascertained, lotteries in other countries) that collect tax payments. Canadians don’t even pay taxes on lottery wins and in other countries, the winner settles up with the tax authority after collecting the lottery prize.
- Never ever ever disclose any personal information including your personal ID number, your tax information or your bank details
- If a letter asks you to keep your win a secret, treat it with suspicion. Legitimate lotteries thrive on publicity and do everything possible to publicize the win
- Look at the letter. If the return email is @gmail.com or @yahoo.com, or if the spelling and grammar are bad, the letter is almost certainly fraudulent.
- Don’t call the phone number provided in the letter to “get more information.” Some of the scams involve simply having people call numbers for which they pay. That money is then diverted to the scammer. That’s the scam right there.
As technology becomes more advanced, lottery scams advance. But so do the methods of protecting yourself. If you have ANY suspicion about a letter or phone call, check it out before you do anything that would compromise your money or your personal information.