(Host) After receiving a letter informing her that she had won the lottery – in Spain – commentator Cheryl Hanna did a little investigating and here’s what she found out.
(Hanna) At first I thought it was junk mail, but then I noticed the foreign stamp. Spain. My husband I honeymooned there a few years ago so naturally, I was curious.
The letter said I was one of a handful of people who had won over $600,000 in a Spanish world-wide lottery. All I had to do was call the number given in order to claim my prize. I figured I had entered while in Spain but just didn’t remember. $600,000. I couldn’t believe it. But I did.
When my husband came home, I showed him the letter, and started dreaming about a vacation to Greece. “That’s funny,” he said. “I just got a fax just a few days ago claiming that I was the heir to some oil money in Nigeria.” It was only then that I realized that we had both become potential scam victims.
The good news is that neither of us called the numbers, but if we had, we would likely have been told to send money to cover administrative fees and taxes or to send a bank routing number so the money could be wired to us. In either case, we would have been big losers.
These scams prey on the optimism and wild imagination of people like me: people who enter the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes and buy lottery tickets. People who believe that the unlikely is still possible and then, without really thinking, proceed to call.
This time, however, instead of calling Spain, I called the Vermont Attorney General Consumer Assistance Program. It turns out, I’m not the only Vermonter to have won the Spanish lottery. Others have reported these international scams too, although, the AG’s office doesn’t know of any Vermonters who’ve responded.
These international scams have many versions. Sometimes consumers receive a phone call or an e-mail claiming that they’ve won a drawing in Canada or that a foreign government is distributing funds to Americans harmed by Canadian telemarketers. The Federal Trade Commission routinely posts warnings about new variations of these scams.
But there’s almost no chance hoodwinked consumers will ever see their money again. It’s very hard for the government to reach across foreign borders even if it does find the scam artists. So before you answer any foreign solicitation, call the AG’s office first. Someone there should be able to tell if you the scheme is legitimate. And if you’ve gotten one of these letters, let them know that too.
Some states have seen a rash of these letters, prompting other attorneys general to issue consumer warnings to folks locally. There’s no evidence that Vermont’s being targeted – yet. But better safe than sorry when it comes to consumer fraud.
I’m still thinking about that vacation in Greece but I’ll have to win a real lottery first.
This is Cheryl Hanna.
The Consumer Assistance Program at the Vermont Attorney General’s Office can be reached at (800) 649-2424 or www.atg.state.vt.us.
Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.
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