Sacto 9-1-1
December 2, 2008
Police: Be wary of 'winning' sweepstakes or lottery checks

A warning from the Redding Police Department that is applicable for any resident who receives winner's checks from sweepstakes or lotteries:

Almost every day the Redding Police Department receives multiple phone calls and letters from people who have received mail containing counterfeit checks and letters. The letters advise the potential victims that they have won a sweepstakes or lottery and that they should cash or deposit the checks in their bank account. The counterfeit checks are for only a small percentage of the total winnings and, according to the letter, have been sent to cover some type of taxes or fees. The "winners" are given instructions, either in the letter or by a contact listed in the letter, to send money to cover the fees so they can collect their full winnings. Almost always, the money for the fees is to be sent via Western Union or MoneyGram. That way the victim has no way to know for sure who ended up with their money.

In 2007, investigators led by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service arrested 77 people as part of a global fraud crackdown that intercepted more than $2.1 billion in counterfeit checks bound for the United States.

The eight-month investigation involved schemes in Nigeria, the Netherlands, England and Canada, and has stopped more than half a million fake checks from being mailed to American victims.

If you receive a letter or email advising that you have won a lottery or sweepstakes, remember the following:

1. U.S. citizens cannot enter foreign lotteries without traveling to that country to purchase the ticket. You cannot enter foreign lotteries by phone, by mail or via the Internet if you are a U.S. citizen.

2. It is illegal for sweepstakes or lotteries to make a winner pay any fees in advance of receiving the prize. This includes prizes of money, vehicles, or any other property. If the prize is money, the amount of any fees you must pay will be deducted from the prize check before it is given to you. Never pay the fees in exchange for a check in the full amount of the prize.

3. Never wire or send money by Western Union or MoneyGram to anyone you do not know personally and very well.

4. You are financially liable for any checks you endorse and cash or deposit. Just waiting until the funds have been made available in your account by your bank does not mean that the check is good. It can sometimes take months for a check to be detected as counterfeit.

If someone believes they have been defrauded by a scam, the Postal Inspection Service wants to hear from them. These crimes can be reported by calling 1-800-372-8347.

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