I received a letter stating I’ve won a prize in a lottery or contest. How do I know if this is legitimate?
The first thing you should ask yourself is, “did I enter a lottery?” If you don’t remember entering the lottery or contest that contacted you, it is probably a scam. Look at the return address. Does it match the postmark? Was it sent from outside the United States? The U.S. Postal Inspection service does a remarkable job of investigating and shutting down this type of illegal activity. As a result most operations have moved out of the country. The most common country of origin for lottery scams is currently Canada, but Nigeria, Denmark and England are also points of origin that we have seen here before. This does not mean that you can automatically trust a solicitation from within the US. We do occasionally see “boiler room” operations in this country that are set up as a screen for overseas operations. Overseas criminals also have duped local citizens to act as transfer agents in their scams, accepting domestic shipments of goods or money and then re-sending them to their overseas contacts. They occasionally have domestic telephone numbers for contact, but when we check them they turn out to be "trac phones", untraceable and disposable, easily purchased at a discount store under a false name.
If you were to win a legitimate lottery, the organizers should be able to simply send you your winnings, or instruct you on how to claim them without revealing any personal information. Any attempt to acquire your date of birth, social security number, bank name, routing numbers or account numbers is highly suspicious and contact with them should be terminated. There is no legitimate reason to reveal that type of information over the phone, online or through the mail.
Legitimate lotteries also do not ask you to send a deposit or any other type of funds before you are to receive your winnings. If you receive a check or money order from suspicious source, you should wait until your bank tells you that it cleared the bank of origin before you withdraw or send any of the money to anyone else. This process can take up three weeks. A scam will often ask you to return a portion of the money in less time.
Use caution when you are asked for money. If your money leaves the country, there is nothing law enforcement can do to get it back for you. We suggest you check out the resources at www.ag.nd.gov/CPAT/CPAT.htm.
If you have specific questions about a lottery letter or other suspicious solicitation of funds, contact local law enforcement or the State Attorney General Consumer Protection Office.