I received an envelope in the mail with no return address that was postmarked from Canada. When I opened it, the first thing I noticed was the check for $2,600 made out in my name from Sawgrass Federal Credit Union. The letter included explained that I had been “approved for” a lump sum of $120,000 US Dollars after a ticket bearing my name was drawn on January 30th, in the Netherlands. All I needed to do was deposit the check they’d sent into my bank account and withdraw the money, purportedly to pay the taxes associated with my prize, then call the number provided to claim the winnings.Today was my lucky day.
For those of you, like me, who have never heard of this scam, it’s a variable of the old Nigerian Scam which in some form or another has been bilking unsuspecting victims out of money for decades. Though the letters are detailed and sound reasonably legitimate, what most recipients don’t know is that, first of all, participating in an international lottery, by mail or by phone, is against federal law. If you were to have bought a ticket from another country, you would have to go to that country to claim your winnings.
The perpetrators of such “lotteries” are immensely clever. For example, Sawgrass Federal Credit Union is an actual legitimate credit union located in Florida. The check’s signer, Winifred Adkins, is an actual employee of the company. Her contact number, which begins with area code 954, is not the one on the check. The phony contact number given puts you through to a con-artist who pretends to verify your check in their system. The hold time for all that will be somewhere around 4 seconds. But then, some bank employees are fast on the ten-key.
Next there is a number to reach an international claim agent. You will be instructed to deposit the check into your bank account, then immediately withdraw the funds and call back for further instructions. When I called my bank for advice, they assured me they were already aware of the scam. It is intended to cause an ususpecting person to deposit a check that won’t clear, then send money immediately to the perpetrator. When the check is finally tagged as fraudulent, there’s no one left responsible for it but the victim.
Beacon International Lottery, when entered into various search engines, comes back with comparable names blaring scam. Beacon Oil. Netherlands International Lottery. The names are strikingly similar, suggesting the perpetrators have simply been rearranging words to avoid getting caught. And because of a lack of education, such tactics have been working.
No matter how scam-savvy you think you are, there are a few things you should do to avoid becoming a victim. First, do your research. It only takes a few minutes these days to find out who you are dealing with due to the infinite resource that is the internet. Read about the latest cons and familiarize yourself with them. And remember the basic rule of thumb that is becoming like a mantra out there: Do not give your personal information to anyone. There is no amount of money out there that is worth taking a risk that could cost you everything in the end.