Editor's Note: The Lottery Post staff continually receives e-mails from people who are trying to trace the "company" that has sent an e-mail about a big win in a Internet lottery. Be warned: if you supply your banking details you may end up poorer than before your mysterious windfall. Police caution strongly that you should never agree to meet these con artists. The following article appears as-written in the online magazine, Expatica.
On receipt of an e-mail from an Internet scam outfit, the Editor of Expatica Netherlands wasted no time in ringing up to collect the promised $1 million jackpot prize.
"Yes, it is amazing isn't it," the voice on the line from Germany replied as I expressed surprise at winning a lottery that I had never heard of before. (I didn't bother to mention that I had regularly consigned dozens of similar e-mails to the recycle bin).
"You are all just very lucky," the man with an accent replied undaunted when told that two other colleagues have also received e-mails the same day telling them how to collect their winnings.
So, if this isn't a scam, how does it work?
"Absolutely, we are genuine. It is an Internet lottery, special software picks out the numbers of the winning computers active on the Internet," the man said.
Really, how does that work?
"The software picks the computer numbers... I don't know... I only work here."
Don't worry about it. Can I have my money now?
"Sure. Which e-mail did you receive and what is your name?"
At this stage I begin to feel the guy on the other end of the phone isn't even trying.
Who ever heard of anyone running a mysterious sweepstakes lottery, with USD 50 million (EUR 43 million) to promote their company? I had just "won" and I still wasn't any clearer about my benefactor who was supposed to be "promoted". And the man on the other end of the line didn't know who I — the winner — was. How many prizes were they awarding?
Why did I have to ring a number in Germany if the "MACOM GLOBAL INTERNATIONAL NETHERLAND SWEEPSTAKES LOTTERY AND PROMOTION" is based in Washeet Straat in Amsterdam.
(The capitals and the incorrect spelling of the Netherlands come from their e-mail.) I must confess in my eagerness I forgot to mention my strong suspicion — supported by maps of the city — that there is no Washeet Straat.
Back to the e-mail: "your company/individual name attached to the ticket numbers 1001-58255563-2285 with serial number 8888/03 drew from the lucky numbers 02-22-00-66-99-85, which consequently won the lottery in the TWO category. You have therefore been approved for a lump sum pay out of US 1 million in cash credited to file SWD/5333/00128/03UAD".
This sounds great except for one minor detail: It does not make any sense. After about 10 minutes on the phone, I deliver what I thought would be the killer blow.
Is Macon in any way connected to the Internet lottery company in Eindhoven?
Are you sure?
"Absolutely, we are an independent company."
I'm just asking because this is the third time this month that I have won. I think I will buy a yacht with this million dollars to go with the mansion and the wife with big breasts I bought with the three million in winnings from the Eindhoven company.
"What a good idea! (Chuckles) Just send us your details so we can deposit the money into your account... and remember due to the mix up of some numbers and names, please keep this top secret until your claims has been processed."
When I continued to ask that he send me a cheque, he assured me Dr. Brown would ring me shortly. I am still waiting for the good doctor's call and for my cash.
The conversation was good for a laugh, but the people and rationale behind such lottery-win e-mails are far from a joke.
These e-mails are a hybrid form of the 419, a scam developed in Nigeria to prey on the financially vulnerable in Africa and greedy people in rich countries. On occasions, victims who make contact with the sender to collect their monies have been assaulted, robbed and some have even been murdered. The rest of us confront clogged up e-mail in-boxes.
The scam begins with a letter, e-mail or call from a "government official or businessman" — supposedly based in Nigeria — telling the recipient "confidentially" that a large amount of money is available and help is needed to transfer the money. In exchange, people are offered a share of the profits. The only drawback, is that the "help" involves paying over an advance fee or providing your bank account details.
Some forms of the e-mail claim to be sent by a relative or former associate of the late General Sani Abacha of Nigeria or some other odious and corrupt African dictator.
The writers are hardly original; most begin: "You may be surprised to receive this... " or in the case of lottery scams: "We are pleased to inform you... "
The name 4-1-9 refers to the section of Nigerian law outlawing advance fee fraud and while Nigerian gangs have proven it is a money spinner, the trick is as old as the hills and people of all nationalities are involved.
Surely nobody in their right mind would fall for this? Wrong. The "get-rich-quick syndrome and the greed of foreigners", according to the Nigerian government, makes it possible for 419 gangs to thrive.
The Nigerian government has posted warnings on its embassy websites and it says it has "closed all business/Internet cafes when many were found to be havens through which 419 scam proposals were e-mailed or faxed abroad".
Ignorance is bliss
But all it takes is one gullible person out of millions for the scam to pay off. The Nigerian government advises people who have been duped to swallow their pride and contact the authorities. This won't get your money back and the gangs are rarely caught. Prevention is the best cure; don't read junk mail and you won't get taken in.
This office has installed a good spam filter which has drastically reduced, but not eliminated, the "You may be surprised to hear from me... " e-mails.
In addition, politicians in the US and Netherlands are getting involved in the anti-spam war following years of dragging their feet.
Yahoo News reported on 22 October 2003 that the US Senate unanimously approved an anti-spam bill allowing the government and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sue spammers who violate restrictions on unsolicited commercial e-mail.
People sending bulk e-mails will in future have to indicate a valid return address, disclose the content is advertising and give consumers an opt-out mechanism, Yahoo said.
Dutch Economic Affairs Minister Laurens-Jan Brinkhorst told MPs the same day that under forthcoming legislation, senders of spam would have to be able to prove the recipient requested it. However, he rejected a call to set up an agency to police complaints about unwanted mail.
Whether the "Macon Global Sweepstakes Lottery company" in Amsterdam will take any notice of the forthcoming legislation remains to be seen.
But I nevertheless face the bleak prospect of never hearing from Dr. Mike Brown again to arrange the transfer of the million dollars he owes me.