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Spain Breaks Up Sweepstakes Fraud Ring

Oct 15, 2003, 3:32 am

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Insider BuzzInsider Buzz: Spain Breaks Up Sweepstakes Fraud Ring

Madrid police broke up a fraud ring that cheated hundreds of Americans and Canadians out of $35 million through scams such as a lottery simulating a Spanish Christmas sweepstakes, officials said Tuesday.

A total of 103 people - mostly Nigerians - were arrested during raids in and around Madrid, police said.

The ring allegedly swindled 500 people, mostly residents of the United States and Canada, this year through different methods, police spokesman Jose Maria Seara told national radio.

Fifty people were arrested this month, a police statement said. It did not provide any details about the other arrests.

The Madrid-based lottery scam was reported this summer in the United States by the Better Business Bureau, and the attorneys general of several states - including Arizona, Missouri and Texas - warned residents.

Victims typically received a letter saying they had been picked at random and won about $580,000 in a Spanish lottery called El Gordo. That's also the name of a real lottery Spain holds every Christmas, with winnings reaching $2 billion last year.

The letter urges people to send money to cover taxes and handling fees, and some of those duped mailed more than $20,000, police said.

Spanish police began investigating after several embassies received complaints, Seara said.

In another scam, victims are told $20 million in cash is languishing in an African country or Iraq, and they are urged to pay fees to help sneak it out in return for a hefty share.

Some people traveled to Madrid and were shown trunks holding dollars stained with a special ink, supposedly to prdvent them from being placed in circulation. Victims paid for what they were told were expensive chemicals needed to clean the bank notes.

Some people paid as much as $500,000 in fees and money for chemicals, the police said.


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