DANVILLE — Getting a call from the Ohio Lottery Commission doesn’t happen everyday, but it can be a life-changing event. Getting a lottery-winning message from a scam artist, on the other hand, does happen every day, and it can be costly if you let your guard down.
Anyone in the email generation has undoubtedly received many messages from Nigerian and Zambian officials who want to help you collect your million and change from a drawing you never entered. All you have to do is send along a small financial show of sincerity, and your check will be in the mail. But as the adage goes, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
There was one twist to the scam scenario recently for Keith and Barb Miller of Danville, who received a lottery hoax not by email, but in their mailbox.
“It looked pretty official,” Keith said. “The printing job was excellent, but it cost $19.99 in order to continue on to receive the $1.4 million it said we won. I was suspicious right away.”
Conducting any scam is against consumer protection laws, and running one through the U.S. Postal Service is particularly brazen. In addition to state and local consumer laws, such scammers run afoul of federal mail fraud statutes. But they are crafty and not easy to prosecute.
“We see things like that almost every day,” said Mount Vernon Postmaster Cindy O’Brien. “They are usually from a foreign company that uses multiple U.S. addresses. I recommend that people turn them into their local post office. We turn them over to the postal inspectors who battle this kind of thing on a daily basis.”
It’s also a good idea to notify the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which steps in when Ohio companies are involved.
After giving their mail pitch the once-over, the Millers concluded it was fraudulent and gave it the pitch. Unfortunately, not all consumers are as perceptive.
“Usually, the scams are from a foreign company asking for a fee to process your winnings,” O’Brien said. “We also see fraudulent money orders. The scam there is that they’ll send you a money order for $999 and tell you to cash it, send them $100, and keep the rest. Then the money order bounces and the person is out the money.”
Experienced scammers are smart enough to include a small-print disclaimer, buried somewhere in their pitch, that arguably makes their game legal and certainly makes it more difficult for authorities to prosecute. The fraudulent pitches are geared to exploit the guileless and often target older persons.
“If a person sends them money once,” O’Brien said, “they start sending out additional letters looking for more. They really take advantage of people.”
The Postal Inspection Service says it “can act against a company or individual if there is a pattern of activity suggesting a potential scheme to defraud.” Further, it will pass along complaints as needed to other agencies.
Area residents are advised to keep on the lookout for scam letters and always be skeptical. When questionable mail is received, you are encouraged to drop it off at the post office. To make a complaint directly to the postal inspectors, call 877-876-2455 or on the Internet visit htpps://postalinspectors.uspis.gov. The state Attorney General’s Helpline is manned from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 800-282-0515, or go to www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/reportascam.
Meanwhile, the best and most succinct advice comes from Postmaster O’Brien: “Never send money to get money.”