Calumet City, Indiana, police are investigating several reported scams that have misled people into thinking they have won a substantial amount of money from the lottery.
According to police, the scam begins when the victim receives a letter in the mail, along with a check for several thousand dollars. The letter then instructs its recipient to call a telephone number in Canada.
When the victim calls the Canada number, he or she is told the check is part of the lottery winnings and are instructed to cash it, police said.
When the victims cash these checks, they are told to send some of the money to the firm in order to cover the cost of fees so the remainder of the lottery winnings can be released.
According to police, the victims are told to send the money through Western Union Money Gram to speed the process along.
Several days after sending money to the firm, police said, the victim is told by the bank that the check is fraudulent. He or she is then responsible for repayment of the entire amount of the check.
Russ Collett, assistant special agent in charge at the Chicago field office of the United States Secret Service, said these mail letters are similar to email scams circulating on the internet. He said these types of scams are called "4-1-9" or "advance fee fraud" schemes.
Collett said the letters, both mail and e-mail, originate from all over the world including Canada, England and Western Africa.
"We've had successful prosecutions," Collett said. "The problem is, and we recognize it, they are overseas."
Collett said there are some telling factors that can tip off a fake letter.
"They need to look for differences in the syntax, or mistakes in grammar," Collett said. "A bank president is going to proof his or her document before it's sent."
Calumet City police investigator Marco Glumac said people should use common sense when faced with these kinds of letters and phone calls.
"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Glumac said. "You have to use your common sense."
Glumac said it's best to be suspicious of all letters and phone calls of this nature. He said while some may feel embarrassed for falling victim to this type of scam, it is important to report incidents to local authorities.
"If they find that it's a scam, give us a call," Glumac said.
Police urge people not to cash these checks, and to immediately report any letters or checks they have received to the police department.