Foreign lottery schemes may be fleecing Americans out of as much as a billion dollars every year. The problem is so vast, congress is hearing testimony on the matter.
Often suspects are overseas, and that's a challenge for law enforcement. But here's a case where a perceptive postal employee helped bring a suspect to justice right here in the United States.
"Something is not right here. Why are you getting all these Express Mail packages from all over the US?"
Mary Santiago asked the right questions. She knows her customers and suspected one was running a mail fraud scheme based here in the U.S.
"I said, 'I don't know what is going on, but she is getting Express mail from all over and it's usually once a week. It will stop, it will start up again. Something is not right here.'"
Postal inspectors began tracking the Express Mail labels the suspect was signing and found a pattern.
Here's how the lottery scheme works:
Victims get mail containing fake checks or a letter saying they hit a jackpot. To collect their winnings, they're told to pay a fee, tax or other expense. The elderly are a prime target.
"They are preying on people who don't know any better so they can take advantage of them and use them as a pawn in their game," said Louis Diaz, U.S. Postal Inspector.
A sting was set up. The suspect was told she had a new package to pick up. She came in and was caught.
"I don't know how anyone could do that to someone, people lose their houses, they take out second mortgages, I feel good that we caught her," said Santiago.
Inspectors say you should check to make sure your elderly family members aren't lured into a similar scheme.
"These people worked hard for their money as they get into their elder years, we have to keep an eye on those most vulnerable," said Joseph Bunaskavich, U.S. Postal Inspector.
Postal inspectors were able to return some money to the victims of this mail fraud scheme.
It's worth repeating: no legitimate lottery will ask you for money up-front.
Keep this in mind if you get letters or phone calls, and especially emphasize the message to elderly friends, family and neighbors.