Tis’ the season: Realistic lottery mail scam reported to SPPD

December 19, 2008
Santa Paula Police Department

A believable mail scam was reported to the Santa Paula Police, who have issued a warning.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesA believable mail scam was reported to the Santa Paula Police, who have issued a warning.According to Det. Dan Kiernan, the scam appears “So realistic that people will probably fall for it,” as a smaller amount of prize money is involved, as well as the provision of some pre-holiday cash for the victim.The “winnings” resulted from a random computer selection, “A bit of new twist. And, of course, with these tough economic times people want to believe more that good fortune has fallen on them…but it’s a scam not only to rip them of their money but also cause damage to their credit rating.”The scam involves a sweepstakes claim notification, “A very convincing looking form letter from the United Financial Group of Ontario, Canada.”The form includes a claim number and “Stated that the citizen was one of 20 recipients of cash prizes totaling $1.1 million…and they had won $55,000 of that.”Det. Kiernan said the recipient was instructed to “Deposit the enclosed check right away and send the tax payment” via Money Gram “located at all Wal-Mart stores,” as the letter thoughtfully notes.The amount of the check from a Chicago-based bank includes $1,000 more - “An upfront payment” noted Det. Kiernan - than the tax payment needed to release the balance of the prize.The letter “Even included a telephone number to contact a claim agent,” a courtesy that Det. Kiernan took advantage of after he ran a reverse phone check that showed the number was located in Ontario, Canada, although the letter used a Vancouver address.“I decided to call and impersonate the person who brought the check here,” and the call was answered in a “professional manner.”When the specified agent was put on the line Det. Kiernan said the person explained how his winnings could be claimed but, “when I questioned extensively” that the check bank routing number did not match the lottery account, “they said they would check with the floor manager…and then they hung up.”
The check was for $4,975…and the winner was instructed to keep the $1,000 difference to tide them over until the balance arrived.If the check is cashed not only would the winner be out the money they sent for Canadian taxes, but they could also face a charge of bank fraud as the routing number reflects the legitimate account of a person also being victimized.“The true account holder would get worked over…it gives a 30-day trail,” when the lottery scam victim “will have a little money in their pocket, but when it comes back to our victim they are of course charged back that full amount,” withdrawn from the bank fraud victim’s account that must be replaced.And, he added, “It makes it look like check fraud on the scam letter victim’s part…”Det. Kiernan warned that people be wary of such major prize notifications: “If they claim you have to deposit a check and send money, obviously it’s a scam. You can contact the tax agency and ask if it’s legitimate or not…it won’t be.”The SPPD does not handle such cases, which – due to the out of country origin of the scam and different applicable laws – are hard, if not impossible to prosecute.“If anybody receives any of these types of suspected frauds in the mail bring it to the Postal Inspector,” whose jurisdiction covers such crimes.Overall, Det. Kiernan noted “The best course of action is prevention…this person was smart enough not to cash the check, but there are other people out there who will fall victim to this. Everybody is getting ripped except for the people in Canada…it’s sad that these vultures are out there.”He stressed that the scam artists “Were very convincing on the phone, but it’s a total professionally organized scam…it comes back to the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.”

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