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September 04, 2005

Phony Lottery Doesn't Add Up

While the Nigerian-style advance-fee fraud (a.k.a. 419 fraud) definitely bilks people out of a ton of money each year, I fear more for the recipients of the lottery scams that arrive via email. Unlike the long-winded, broken-English letters describing some hidden cash cache needing help getting out of a faraway country, the lottery letters are probably more plausible to the unwary recipient.

When I was a kid—here we go—there was a television program called The Millionaire. Each week a reclusive benefactor gave some deserving person one million tax-free dollars to do with as they pleased. I think it's everyone's dream to have a big wad of dough wind up in his or her lap without doing squat to earn, or even applying for it. You get picked simply because you exist.

And so, when an email arrives saying that you've won a Europe-based lottery that selected your address from 100,000,000 international email addresses, it's better than the Publisher's Clearinghouse prize. In that contest, you may be a winner; in the email lottery, you are a winner. Woo hoo!

These letters include various official-looking pieces of information, such as a many-digit winning number, lotto code number, cryptic "file Ref number," and so on. All you have to do is contact someone (usually in Holland or Spain) by email or phone to claim your prize. Nine (or more) times out of ten, the email address is an account at netscape.net. This seems to be a favorite free email place for lottery scammers.

If you let yourself get caught up in the winning madness, you'll soon find that before you can get your grubby hands on the moolah, you'll have to pay some fees and taxes. It's all "standard procedure," mind you. Every winner has to pay them, you'll be told. Unfortunately, the lottery officials cannot deduct these expenses from your winnings. No, you have to wire them the funds before the prize money is released. What's several thousand dollars up front against a "sure-fire" win of a million Euros?

And that's where this scam gets its name: Advance Fee Fraud. You pay the money up front. You get bupkis in return. The scam is older than old. Only the medium has changed, allowing the scammers to con more and more hapless email users.

The lottery scam piece that got me on this particular rant started with a paragraph that failed to do the math:

We are please to announce you as one of the 12 lucky winners in the email lottery programme draw of the LOTERIA PRIMITIVA held on the 1st of september.2005.All 12 winning addresses were randomly selected from a batch of 100,000,000 international emails Your email address emerged along side with 12 others as a category 6 winner in this year's loteria primitiva award Draw.

So, there are 12 lucky winners. Me and 12 others. Wait....

Posted on September 04, 2005 at 08:14 PM