Foreign lottery schemes continue to surface, keeping postal clerks and inspectors busy looking out for potential victims.
An observant postal clerk helped a man who had rival con-artists scheming him for cash, and it's a story that could help you or someone you know from falling for a similar scheme.
"They are told they've won a prize, either a sweepstakes or a lottery prize, but there is a catch," said Steve Bolz, U.S. Postal Inspector.
Foreign lottery schemes are costing Americans more than $120 million a year. Thousands of people are falling victim to the promise of big winnings.
"They have to pay money in order to collect this prize," said Bolz. "There will be some kind of explanation. It might be they have to pay taxes, they have to pay customs duties, processing fees, it's all window dressing."
In an unusual twist, a postal clerk tipped off Inspector Bolz to a victim being targeted by two rival groups of foreign lottery con artists.
"He was standing in line at the post office ready to mail a package, as one of these groups directed him, when he received a phone call on his cell phone from a rival group," said Bolz. "When they learned what he was doing, they gave him a new address to send that package. That is what he did."
The postal clerk sent that package to Bolz, who then returned it.
The victim was ready to send $13,000 in cash to the con artists.
Bolz told him it was all a scam, but the victim was reluctant to believe him.
"People don't want to believe this is a scam, because they really want to believe in that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," said Bolz.
The victim in this case tried to send money again. This time, Bolz spoke to the victim's wife.
"She was very upset. She had no idea her husband was sending thousands of dollars overseas," said Bolz. "She had to take action at that point and rein him in."
She took his cell phone away and monitors their accounts daily, a sad byproduct of a scheme that seems to be on the rise.
"I was unable to get through to him, because the story he was being told was just so much better than the story I was telling him," said Bolz.
Postal inspectors want to stress lotteries are illegal, except when conducted by states and certain exempt charitable organizations.
There are no legitimate lotteries or sweepstakes that will ask for money upfront — that is a definite red flag.