International lottery scams can take several forms. In one version, the scammer notifies a person living in the U.S. via the U.S. mail or email that they have supposedly won a large sum of money in a lottery or sweepstakes in a foreign country.
Or, the message might communicate that the person has won an automobile or a dream vacation. These notifications often come with requests for money to pay taxes, fees, or other costs before the person can claim their prize. This can continue for weeks, months, or even years. Ultimately, there is no prize, and thousands of dollars could be lost.
A person should be alert for advertisements, emails, or phone calls that promise a lot of money in international lotteries or sweepstakes. Many con artists use the telephone and direct mail to tempt U.S. consumers to participate in foreign lotteries, i.e., in Europe or Australia. They may tell you that they know the secret behind these international lotteries.
A person should understand that these types of offers are illegal in the U.S. International sales of lottery tickets by phone or mail are clearly against the law. So legitimate operators do not make these offers. Only criminals engage in this illegal activity.
In addition, it is illegal for an American to buy tickets for a foreign lottery. So, that is a compelling reason not to do it.
Some scam artists use the Publishers’ Clearinghouse name to try to perpetrate fraud. The Publishers’ Clearinghouse Sweepstakes is popular and legitimate in the U.S., but a person should be very careful if they are notified that they have won because scam artists have used this trick to steal money from the unsuspecting.
Are Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams Something New?
Sweepstakes and lottery scams have been around for a long time and are still going strong today. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports receiving more than 148,000 reports of fraud involving prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries in 2021. This was an increase of 27 percent from the year before. The victims collectively lost an astounding $255 million.
The vast majority of these offers for international lotteries are fake. Some promoters promise to buy lottery tickets, but they do not. They pocket any money that is sent to them. Others buy the tickets, but if they should win anything, they keep the money for themselves.
It is important to remember that the chances of winning any lottery are infinitesimally small. It may be fine to spend a couple of dollars for a chance to win a U.S. lottery, but a person is most likely not to win it. Foreign lotteries, even if they are legitimate, are no different.
The worst thing a person can do is give any stranger their bank account number. This allows these scam artists to attempt to withdraw from a person’s bank account. Likewise, giving anyone other than a legitimate business from which a person is buying a product or service a credit card number is something a person should not do.
What Kind of Crimes Are These Frauds?
Using fraudulent misrepresentations to steal another person’s money is essentially a form of theft by deception. First, theft is taking another person’s property to permanently deprive the person of it.
There are two kinds of theft by deception. One is theft by false impressions, and the other by intentional misrepresentation. Each state may define these two crimes somewhat differently. But generally, they are defined as follows:
- False Impressions: In committing this crime, a person creates the false impression that a victim relies on as representing the truth. An example is the restaurant “dine and dash” scam. A person shows up at a restaurant, orders, and eats. The person gives the impression that they intend to pay for the meal as any other customer does. But the person eats the meal and sneaks out without paying for it;
- Intentional Misrepresentations: Intentional misrepresentations are committed when a person knowingly lies or omits significant information, and the victim relies upon the lies or omissions to their loss.
- An example would be a foreign sweepstakes scam in which the thief tells an unsuspecting victim that if they just send them some cash to pay taxes and fees, they will receive a large sweepstakes payout, possibly millions of dollars. The victim then forwards the cash and receives nothing in return;
- Phishing: Phishing is an example of theft by deception. When phishing, criminals send emails, text messages, or make telephone calls. Their goal is to give the unsuspecting recipients of the messages the impression that the message comes from a legitimate company or organization, such as one with which the victim may have done business. The phishing victims may provide confidential information, such as their Social Security number because they have been duped. Phishing can lead to cases of identity theft.
Another type of theft by deception using a stolen credit card. The thief using the stolen card may give a business owner the false impression that the card belongs to them. Or, the thief intentionally and falsely states that they have permission to use the card. But using another person’s credit card without their permission is a theft crime. Or, the thief colludes with a business owner who accepts the card knowing the person in possession is not the rightful owner.
What Are My Remedies If I Have Been the Victim of an International Lottery Scam?
The problem with falling victim to these scams is that it might be very challenging at best to get one’s money back. The problem is identifying the scammers in a foreign country. They may only have an electronic appearance to the victim. The victim has never seen them and probably does not even know the country where the scammer is located.
Of course, a person can always report a crime to the police. There is some chance that the police might be able to identify the perpetrators, but they probably would not be able to do that.
Again, if a person were to be able to identify the perpetrators, a lawyer might be able to seek recovery of the stolen money. This also assumes that the perpetrators still have the victim’s money or some equivalent. Finding the stolen money would also be a challenge. But if it could be done, the victim could file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrators for civil theft or fraudulent misrepresentation. The same acts that constitute theft crimes are also civil wrongs.
Again, unfortunately, it is not likely that a victim would be able to identify the perpetrator and locate the stolen money, especially in a foreign country.
How Can I Avoid an International Lottery Scam?
There are certain things a person should keep in mind when confronted with such a scam:
- No Special Secrets: There are no special, hidden secrets to winning international lotteries. All legitimate lotteries are pure games of chance, and the chances are greatest that a person who buys a ticket will lose the price of the ticket and not win large amounts of money;
- Do Not Disclose Personal Financial Information: People should keep their financial information to themselves or disclose it only while conducting legitimate consumer transactions, e.g., purchasing goods or services. They should otherwise never share financial information with a stranger;
- Foreign Lotteries: It is a violation of federal law to participate in a foreign lottery over the phone or by mail;
- Do Not Fall for Scams: A person may be entered on a “sucker list” if they purchase even one fake international lottery ticket. Then they can expect to receive many more phone calls and mail offers of fraudulent scams. A person can find lots of information about scams online. It pays to learn about them so that a person can spot them if a perpetrator targets them.
Always remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
If someone is confronted with these bogus promotions, they should ignore them. Another option is to report them to the Postal Inspector at the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). It can be reported online at www.uspis.gov. A person may also wish to contact the office of their state’s Attorney General.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with an International Lottery Scam?
If you believe that an international lottery scam has victimized you, you want to consult a consumer protection lawyer. Your lawyer can explain the law concerning participation in international lotteries and other scams concerning lotteries, sweepstakes, and other similar criminal activities.
Your lawyer could help you notify the authorities who need to know about your experience. They can also assess whether a civil legal action would help you.