Avoiding the Foreign Lottery

They've been around for some time, yet foreign lottery scams are still snaring countless victims every day. One of just dozens of foreign lottery frauds, the Jamaican Lottery Scam alone could be bilking older Americans out of as much as $1 billion a year, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. But the FTC notes that many lottery scams go unreported because the victims may be too ashamed to file a complaint.

You might even recognize the hallmarks of the trickery: stacks of advertisements and countless emails inviting you to play this or that offshore lottery; callers from mysterious phone numbers claiming you "won the Jamaican lottery," but demanding you pay the foreign taxes in cash.

According to AARP, while various lottery scams have been in existence for some time, the Jamaican Lottery Scam is notable for being far more aggressive and abusive. "When victims of past lottery scams caught on and quit sending money, the con-artist would usually move on to the next target," says AARP State Director Doug Shadel. "But with the Jamaican Lottery Scam, some scammers threaten their victims with violence and bodily harm if they refuse to continue paying."

Here are some tips to keep you from being scammed:

1. Remember that all foreign lottery offers are illegal in the United States and most of them are frauds. If you receive a letter, email, or phone call that you have won the Jamaican Lottery, Canadian or Australian Lottery, or the El Gordo, ignore it. It's probably a scam.

2. Keep in mind that modern technology makes it easy to create fake mailings with pictures of happy winners to prove it's legitimate. Don't fall for it.

3. The bottom line is this: Never arrange payment through bank transfer or prepaid debit card, or wire or send money to anyone, anywhere who says you've won a prize. Odds are, it's a scam.

If you've been scammed, notify local law enforcement and the State Attorney General's Office.

You can sign up for the Fraud Watch Network at or by calling 800-646-2283. By joining the Fraud Watch Network, you'll receive alerts and notifications about new scams as they emerge.

File a consumer complaint with the Attorney General's Office at