Fighting Foreign Lottery Fraud – and More

Money down the drainThink no one falls for it? Think again. The news could come in the form of a letter, a phone call, or an e-mail – perhaps from a Jamaican lottery official: Congratulations! You’ve won a huge prize in our lottery!

To claim your winnings, all you need to do is pay the taxes on your prize and wire the funds or provide a credit card.

The bad news: Scammers are getting better at targeting the people who actually will believe them. They tend to be older and more financially or emotionally vulnerable – and therefore, more susceptible to this insidious form of fraud.

AARP, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Postal Inspection Service have teamed up to raise awareness as part of National Consumer Protection Week.

Although there are dozens of foreign fraud schemes, the Jamaican lottery scam alone could be bilking older Americans out of $1 billion a year according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The FTC believes that many of these crimes go unreported since victims are too ashamed to file a complaint. Also, the Jamaican lottery scam tends to be more aggressive and abusive than many others.

“When victims of past lottery scams caught on and quit sending money, the con-artist would usually move on to the next target,” explains Doug Shadel, AARP Washington State Director and a leading national expert on fraud schemes targeting the elderly. “But with the Jamaican lottery scam, some criminals threaten violence and bodily harm if the victim doesn’t continue.”

To get people talking, Public Service Announcements will air in 85 media markets around the country. You and your friends may laugh when you see how absurd the scenarios seem, but the idea is to think of others at a higher risk of getting scammed – and reach out to them.

PSA - Foreign Lottery Scams

AARP and the U.S. Postal Service will mail 25 million postcards explaining how this form of mail fraud works. Odds are good that the most vulnerable seniors will notice since the educational postcards have been designed to look like the fraudulent lottery mailers. There will be posters and brochures in more than 32,000 post offices.

Think an elderly neighbor, friend or relative might be especially vulnerable? Have a conversation and:

  • Ask them what they would do if someone contacted them about winning a prize.
  • Emphasize that they should never wire or send money to anyone who claims to have a prize for them.
  • Remind them never to give a credit card or Social Security number to someone who calls.


More information and resources:  

Foreign lottery scams:  | Investor fraud: |’s page on preventing Scams and Fraud