Spotting foreign lottery scams

Imagine this…you receive a letter saying you have won an international lottery contest. To obtain your winnings you must first wire money to an overseas account to cover the insurance. You quickly wire the money, but are told that the initial insurance amount you were told was incorrect and you must send more money. Again, you wire the money, but a few days, and then a few weeks, and then a few months pass and you never receive a dime of your winnings.

This is just one way that foreign lottery scams may play out. Hundreds of people have fallen victim to such offers from “lottery officials” from The Netherlands, England, Spain, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and Nigeria just to name a few. The letters that they received likely had fancy letter heads and very specific information (i.e. the date of the lottery, the number of their winning ticket, the name of the “claim agent” they had been assigned, identification numbers they were to provide when claiming their prize, and important tax information) that increased the validity of the offer, but other victims have been contacted by phone. After the initial contact, the method used to swindle the victims’ money varied as well. In some instances the false lottery officials requested money for taxes, processing, and insurance be transferred into overseas accounts as in the example above, but in other instances victims have received checks or money orders worth the amount of whatever fee they are to pay before claiming their prize. All they had to do was deposit the check or money order into their account before writing a check to the lottery official, the catch was that the check or money order was a fraud, and they had actually just sent their own money, and account information, to the scammers. While sending money to sources you are unfamiliar with sounds crazy, the large amount of money, and deadlines to accept this money cause many people to quickly send the money without doing any research, even if they do not remember entering a lottery.

If you are contacted by people claiming to be foreign lottery officials, contact the post office or your state Attorney General’s consumer protection office to notify them of the likely scam. Also, remember:

  • In lotteries you pay for the tickets, not the winnings
  • You only pay taxes after you collect your winnings
  • Winners are required to notify the lottery that they possess the winning ticket, not the other way around
  • It is illegal to play foreign lotteries in the U.S.
  • Only government or government authorized charities can run lotteries, so any other companies offering you prizes are illegitimate.

Foreign Lottery Scams: Convincing but Phony. Consumer Protection Division, Maryland Attorney
General’s Office, Nov. 2005. Web. 21 Apr. 2012 <>.

Lottery Scams: How to Recognize Them. Consumer Fraud Reporting, 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2012

Wendy Clay

Wendy Clay

Wendy Clay is a Virginia Community College System graduate and a current undergraduate at the University of North Carolina. She is pursuing a degree in public health with a minor in exercise and sports science and plans to attend medical school upon the completion of her degree. She has diligently served those around her for many years as a tutor for rural school children and as an advocate in the fight against hunger in her community and around the world.

At The University of North Carolina Wendy plans to actively participate in a student group, Health Focus, which will enable her to use her knowledge and love for health and nutrition to educate youth in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area. She also hopes to promote voter registration amongst her fellow students.
Wendy Clay