by Miles Morley, MiCAFE Community Partner Liaison
This is part six of a recurring series on the most common types of fraud reported in the Consumer Sentinel Network’s 2014 Data Book for the State of Michigan.
The fifth most common fraud category for the state of Michigan is that of prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries fraud. The Consumer Sentinel Network’s 2014 Data Book defines these frauds as “[p]romotions for ‘free’ prizes for a fee; foreign lotteries and sweepstakes offered through the phone, fax, e-mail or mail; etc.” This type of fraud accounted for 2,510 occurrences or 3% of complaints from the State of Michigan in 2014.
This type of fraud usually involves a perpetrator convincing a victim that they have won a lottery or prize. Most of these lotteries are foreign, often located in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, or Spain. Victims will often win despite never voluntarily entering the drawing. Fraudsters will sometimes use the name of established companies to try to fake legitimacy. The fraudsters will often instruct a victim to keep their winnings a secret and to respond quickly to claim your winnings. They will often request official documents and personal information to validate identity. Fraudsters will then ask for the victim to pay up-front fees to cover taxes, insurance, handling, or similar that are nominal when compared with the winnings they are promised. Fraudsters will also sometimes mail the victims a check to cover these expenses and then ask the victim to pay the expenses from their bank account. These checks are bogus and are often not discovered for a few days, while the victim’s payment is legitimate and often long gone by the time the fraud is discovered. Some fraudsters are so brazen that they will contact local taxi companies to arrange transportation from the victim’s home to their bank (at the victim’s expense of course).
The scam is that these winnings will never materialize. It is against US federal law to participate in a foreign lottery through the mail or over the phone. Legitimate drawings will require a participant to enter before they are eligible to claim a prize, and often require them to be a citizen of the country in which the drawing is held. Legitimate lotteries will not require upfront fees, as they will be handled from the winnings. It is important to never meet the fraudsters in person to receive your prize.
The best way to protect yourself is to ignore any communication from a lottery that you did not enter. Never provide identification documents, information, or money unless you are absolutely certain who is making the request. If you have already had contact with a suspected fraudster, save all communication and proof of transactions. File a complaint with your local police department. If you suspect a communication may be fraudulent, you can contact the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors by calling 800.347.5297 or http://www.elderlawofmi.org/hotline.
Miles Morley is a MiCAFE Community Partner Liaison and Website Administrator at Elder Law of Michigan, and has been a member of the Elder Law team since August 2014. Prior to joining the MiCAFE team, Miles served as a Legal Assistant on the Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors.
Miles holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems from Baker College of Owosso, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Lake Superior State University, and graduated with his Juris Doctorate in 2013 from Michigan State University College of Law.
Before joining the Elder Law of Michigan team, he served as an intern at the United States Coast Guard Headquarters. As a legal assistant at ELM, Miles provides legal advice to Michigan Seniors on a wide-variety of areas, including Medicare/Medicaid. As a website administrator at ELM, Miles is responsible for technological and programming projects.