On Your Side: Tips for avoiding foreign lottery scams

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Virginia Lottery is rolling out an ad campaign called Play Smart to alert people–especially seniors—about lottery-related scams.  The scams include emails, bogus letters and phone calls that promise a large prize in exchange for a fee.

The Play Smart campaign is too late to save Danny Perry, who fell for one scam and ended up losing everything, but these are tips we've told you about before.  If someone says you won the lottery and you know you didn't buy a ticket, it's a scam.

These scams play on people's dreams and they're destroying lives.

"It was a great American dream to win some money, where you could retire and you could take care of your grandkids and your family and just do what you wanted to do," Perry said.

Perry thought he had won $2.5 million in a lottery. All he needed to do to collect was to pay a fee.

"$85 to win $2.5 million was a small amount to invest, so I invested. It escalated and just went into the thousands.

But the initial fee didn't bring his payday. The scam artists kept calling him, demanding more money before they would release his winnings.

"I just got caught up in it and I exhausted some savings that I had. Then I went to my charge cards, borrowing cash off charge cards.

There was no prize. Perry lost nearly $80,000 trying to collect what he thought he had won.

"I got disgusted with myself for getting involved, when I should have known better," he said. " I finally just told them I didn't have any more money."

Postal inspectors say Perry is one of thousands of foreign lottery victims.

"It's a pipe dream," U.S. Postal Inspector Roger Mayhew said. "We would all love to get a lot of money.

The scams cost many older Americans their life savings, retirement funds and credit line.

"We need to stop it on the front end before people have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars," Mayhew said.

Awareness and communication are key. If you get a call or letter or email claiming you've won a lottery, talk to family and friends who are likely to steer you in the right direction.

"You may be the lifeline that can protect them from losing their retirement that they saved and world all of their life for," Mayhew said.

No legitimate sweepstakes or lottery will ask you for money up front. Also, never give your banking information to a stranger who promises to deposit your winnings into your account. If you have lost money, call us at 804-345-1212. Also report it to the Attorney General's office by calling 1-800-552-9963.

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