Don't get taken by lottery scam

One of the newest lottery winners in our state says she doesn't want the money, and for good reason -- it's all a scam. Unfortunately, other unsuspecting consumers are going to fall for it.

The lottery letter Lynn MacFarland received from London would have normally gone straight to trash, except Lynn had been in London.

"I wondered if maybe the hotel entered me and then they would have my name and address. Or if there was something of that nature that happened while I was in London. I was using my credit card," she said.

So MacFarland took some time to read what prize director "David Shawn" had to say.

"Every year we enter 50,000 names from different sweepstakes and lottery databases worldwide including North America," the letter reads, "and our network server indicates that you were selected as a prize winner on January 05th 2010 and you still have not claimed your winnings for the sum of US$250,000."

The letter instructs MacFarland to call David Shawn or Helen Anderson within three weeks or she will no longer be able to claim her winnings.

MacFarland smelled a rat immediately, but worries others might be so hopeful of getting money, they'll miss the red flags:

  • A letter from London
  • About a lottery in Switzerland
  • A clearance fee.
  • A bank transfer.
  • The need for keeping your winning confidential.

Then there were the glaring inconsistencies.

"You just don't win $250,000 out of the clear blue," , MacFarland said. "And you don't give your name and address when you enter those lotteries. You buy a ticket."

When a stranger bearing gifts provides a phone number and wants you to call, get on your computer and search. But before you type the name, just type in the number. That phone number is your ticket to the truth.

Within seconds of entering the London phone number provided on the lottery letter, MacFarland was surprised to see a "Scam Update" on the lottery scam. Turns out there's not one name, but dozens of business names being used. David Shawn and Helen Anderson are only two of the dozens of names being used as company officials. There are dozens of addresses and dozens of phone numbers.

The people behind international lottery scams have been at it for decades. I've been warning about them since before the internet. The Federal Trade Commission continually posts alerts. So does the U.S. State Department .

If you get a notice about a lottery or sweepstakes you've never heard of nor entered, regardless of where it's from- you know what to do. Just make sure your elderly parents (or gullible friends or neighbors) get the message. Scammers don't spend time on these scams unless they work.

"People fall for it.", said MacFarland. "And if the scammers get one out of a hundred, they get the money."