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Don't Cash That Check! Foreign Lottery Scams

It may happen at a time when you need it the most – a few days before Christmas, or when the bills are piling up; you open your mail and find a notice that you have won a sweepstakes lottery and it is for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The company has even sent you a check for $3,900 that looks and feels real. You look it over carefully, because you have heard about foreign lottery scams, but it does not appear to be drawn on a foreign bank. Is it too good to be true? The Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau of the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office strongly suggests that you Don't Cash That Check!

These foreign lottery solicitations are happening to consumers at an alarming rate. Each week the Consumer Protection Bureau receives telephone calls on its Consumer Hotline from consumers who receive notifications and checks like these and can not wait to go to their banks to cash the checks. Usually, the letter enclosing the check tells the consumer the check is to be used for processing fees, taxes, insurance and handling fees. They are telling you it is not your money, but they are asking you to put it in your account. Once the check is deposited into your account, the scammers now have access to your bank account. You do not have to wait long to use the money, but that does not mean the check is good. Under federal law, banks have to make the funds you deposit available within one to five days. But just because you can withdraw the money does not mean the check is good. It can take weeks for a fake check to be discovered and the check to bounce. The scenario usually goes like this: you spend the money; the scammer wants the money back to cover the so-called fees and stops payment on the check. Then, your account overdraws. Or, the check finally bounces and your account overdraws. Either way, your bank will charge you fees. The scammer may withdraw funds from your account at a later date and may overdraw your account again. Your bank may even sue you to recover the funds. No matter how this plays out, your life is turned suddenly upside down and whatever you have lost, you will most likely never recoup.

The Federal Trade Commission says law enforcement authorities are intercepting and destroying millions of foreign lottery mailings sent or delivered by the truckload into the US Consumers, lured by prospects of instant wealth, are responding to the solicitations that do get through to the tune of $120 million a year, according to the US Postal Inspection Service.

What you should know about foreign lotteries:

  • If you play a foreign lottery – through the mail or over the telephone – you are violating federal law.
  • There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning, more than the cost of your tickets, are slim to none.
  • If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment "opportunities." Your name will be placed on "sucker lists" that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell.
  • Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.

The United States Postal Service says as a general proposition, sending lottery material through the mail is prohibited by federal law. This material includes, among other things, letters or circulars concerning a lottery, tickets or any paper claiming to represent tickets, chances or shares in a lottery, and payments to purchase any such tickets, chances, or shares.

Congress has enacted limited exemptions from this prohibition, including some which allow such material for a lottery conducted by a state of the United States to be mailed to addresses in that state. No exemption has been enacted which would make it lawful for a foreign lottery enterprise to use the US Mail, or cause it to be used, to operate, promote, or enter one of its lotteries.

The bottom line: Ignore all mail and phone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261, or call the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office of the Consumer Protection Bureau at 888-468-4454.


New Hampshire Department of Justice | 33 Capitol Street | Concord, NH | 03301
Telephone: 603-271-3658