URBANA – Police are again warning residents, particularly the elderly, to beware of lottery scams.
Urbana police Lt. Michael Metzler said a case was investigated Wednesday involving an elderly Urbana woman who had been called and told that she had won 1.2 million Canadian dollars in the Canadian lottery. She was told that she had to wire $2,600 in U.S. currency to pay some "duties" or fees in order to collect her prize.
"If someone receives a call that they have won a prize and that they have to send money in order to collect that prize, it isn't right," Metzler said.
"I don't know of any lottery or contest where you have to send somebody money in order to collect money."
If people get such calls, they should contact their local law enforcement or the Illinois attorney general's consumer fraud office, Metzler said.
Police, bank officials and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan have warned that there are a variety of such fraudulent lottery schemes. Citizens are notified by phone calls, e-mails and faxes that they have won lottery prizes and need to send money in order to collect their winnings. Madigan's office advises that in a real lottery or sweepstakes, there are no strings or fees attached.
Unfortunately, such telemarketing fraud is all too common, according to Metzler.
Last fall, Urbana police investigated a case where an 84-year-old Urbana woman was called and told she won a lottery in England. She then sent the caller more than $1,000 – supposedly to pay for tax "exemptions."
The woman had previously been told she had won a different lottery and that she needed to send money to recover her prize.
In February, a Dallas, Texas, man was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for interstate transportation of stolen money in connection with a Canadian lottery scam.
An elderly Clinton woman had been called and told she had won more than $1 million in the Canadian lottery. She was instructed to wire transfer money to insure the prize before she could collect it, according to federal court records. When she went to her bank in Clinton, bank officials warned her that it was probably a fraud. The woman apparently took the money home with her instead of putting it back into her account.
She was called again and told someone would come pick up her money. Joseph Baroud arrived in Clinton July 13, 2003, took $22,000 from the woman and went back to Los Angeles, Calif., according to the court records.
Local and federal authorities were alerted after the woman got another call saying she needed to pay another $10,000 to insure her "lottery prize." Baroud was arrested when he returned to the woman's home July 16, 2003, to collect the additional cash.
Illinoisans fall victim to bogus letters
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan this week urged consumers to toss any letters they receive in the mail from a company claiming they have won a share of a Spanish lottery.
In recent months, Madigan's office received 100 complaints about a Spanish lottery called El Gordo Sweepstake Lottery Company S.A.; 24 of those complaints were processed by Madigan's Springfield and Carbondale bureaus.
Some Illinois residents have already fallen victim to the scam by responding to a letter sent to them from the company, according to her office.
The letter featured a Madrid, Spain, address and telephone number. It claimed the recipient's name was attached to a ticket drawn in July 2003 that entitled him or her to receive a lump-sum payment of $615,810.
The letter asked them to supply personal bank account information to the company so it could deposit the money into the person's account.
"Many of us have had dreams of winning a lottery, but in this case, the only thing at the other end of the rainbow is a thief," said Madigan in a written release.
"These scams have been around for years. They just keep expanding to different countries. Consumers should use caution before participating in anything billed as an international lottery."
Madigan has forwarded the complaints to U.S. Postal Service inspectors, who investigate fraud by mail.
Money sent in response to international lottery solicitations is likely to be lost forever, she said.
With that in mind, Madigan advised consumers to never send money or fees in order to claim winnings and never give out bank or credit card numbers to people who say they are with an international lottery company.
You can reach Steve Bauer at (217) 351-5318 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.