The letter from Star Lotto Prize Inc. promising a big win was so believable.
But within a week of receiving it, Juanita Foss of Beaverton had lost $3,000.
"Any time you get a lottery thing like this it's fraud," said Foss, a retiree who wants to make sure no one else falls for the scam.
The swindle starts with an official letter promising a rich reward. It moves forward with a fake check sent to the victim. And ends with the victim forwarding a real check to an international address.
The scam may be circulating around Washington County, said sheriff's Sgt. John Black, whose office is investigating two related cases. It is similar to other frauds with slightly different packaging, he said.
"As in most of these types of fraud, it will appear to be too good to be true," he said, "and it is."
The letter Foss received Sept. 9 included official-sounding names and dates.
"Good day. My name is Michael Foreman, the prize director representing the International Lottery, Inc. Claim Department. On Jan. 27, 2004, I tried contacting you but unfortunately was unable to get a hold of you. You were selected a prizewinner on Jan. 6, 2004, and have not claimed your winnings of U.S. $60,000," the letter read.
"It sounded so good," said Foss, who called the number given in the letter. A pleasant voice congratulated her and told her to expect a check.
That's when it got complicated.
A check arrived for $3,300, not $60,000. Foss was supposed to deposit the check in her bank account and send a $3,000 "clearance fee" to an overseas address. By the time she found out the first check was fake, her money was gone.
Foss said there were just enough details to make the fraud believable. The account being overseas explained the unusual "clearance fee." And because she had played the lottery a few years ago in Canada, she thought there may have been a connection.
International accounts make it more difficult for investigators to track the culprits, Black said. State and county investigators don't have the authority to prosecute violations of international law.
Foss is trying to figure out how to pay back her bank. But she and her daughter also are trying to make sure people know about the scam.
"Don't ever send money to get money," she said. "No matter how good it sounds."