RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Don't be lured by the thought of instant wealth the next time somebody tells you, "you won". Scammers use the phone and direct mail to tempt people to try their luck at foreign lotteries, and seniors are often targets.
What happened to 70-year-old Effie Williams is reason to ignore solicitations for foreign lotteries. Most are phony, says the FTC, and if you play a foreign lottery over the phone or by mail, you're breaking federal law.
Williams got a startling phone call from an area code in Jamaica. The caller told her she would soon claim a big windfall. Williams supposedly had won a $5.5 million mega-millions jackpot.
"Well, I just thought it was my lucky day!" said Williams.
The scam went like this: first, she had to transfer $500 to a prepaid Green Dot debit card, to cover a processing fee. Williams called them back and gave them the account number.
They called her back twice, each time explaining they couldn't get the cash off the card and she needed to put more money on it. When it was over, Williams had deposited $1,000 on the card - all to get what she thought was her grand prize.
"All this time, he is calling me sweetie, how I can trust him, he was going to treat me like his grandmother,"
Williams emptied her bank account adding money to the cards. Three days later, the debit cards were wiped cleaned and Williams was still waiting for her money.
She called them back and the man on the other end of the phone reassured her everything was okay and she'd get her check today.
"Why I fell for this, I don't know, I guess because the guy made me feel so comfortable and so at ease," said Williams. "The worst part is, I'm embarrassed."
Wiring money is the same as sending cash, and once it's gone, the Better Business Bureau says the chance of getting your money back is slim to none. Williams is warning other seniors now.
"When you see a caller on your caller ID you don't recognize, don't answer it!"
If you took a chance on a foreign lottery and got scammed, report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Visit https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/ or call 202-326-2222.