Over the past 10 years there have been countless scams dealing with winning tickets for foreign lotteries. Most of the early scams involved someone telling you that you were the winner of a Canadian or Australian lottery jackpot, and that to get the money all you had to do was send in a modest transfer fee, or pay the taxes due on the win.
Most people knew that they had never bought a ticket for these games and could not possibly have won anything.
But others still sent the money. I guess greed cancels out good judgment in some people.
But over time, these simplistic scams have become more sophisticated, which brings me to an E-mail I got from John Zeyer last week.
"I just received a notice that I have won part of a third prize in an international prize promotion program of the El Gordo Sweepstake Lottery Program. ... The form asks that I sign to declare that I have never filed an application regarding the fund and some background information (name address and contact information).
"I am writing because this seems too good to be true. My New York instinct says that this is a scam. The notice came in an envelope with a foreign postmark but no return address on the envelope.
"The form has space for bank transfer information. This is optional, and I would not give bank information to an entity that I am not familiar with. Do you have any advice for me about this situation?"
For those who aren't familiar, the Spanish El Gordo ("the Fat One") lottery is the largest lottery drawing in the world. It's only drawn once a year, and this year there will be a $2.02 billion total payout for the Dec. 22 drawing.
John, your instincts are working great. El Gordo is a lottery, not a sweepstakes. So if you didn't buy a ticket, you can't win. Throw this letter away.
The scammers may not require you to give your bank information, but I bet some trusting people will do just that, and this is what they count on.
And for those who didn't send any bank info but still responded, I have to believe that the next letter you get from them will require a payment from you to get that mysterious prize. Then you can be certain it's a scam.
To the scammers, it's a percentage game. They know that not everyone will respond, but they know that some will.