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Offers from overseas are illegal, BBB says

May 21, 2001

Offers from overseas are illegal, BBB says



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY

andreabh@herald-mail.com

HALFWAY - When 84-year-old Elizabeth Deneen read the letter, she saw a chance for financial freedom.

All she had to do was send $21 to the United Kingdom within 12 days to claim her coveted final stage slot in the $7.5 million tax-free French Lotto prize pool, the letter said.

So Deneen, of Halfway, sent $18 for her lottery tickets and $3 for priority processing to the overseas post office box cited on the solicitation.

"When you're on a limited income, you can use all the help you can get," she said.

She didn't suspect that she was being scammed.

Internal sirens sounded when Deneen's daughter, Erna Long, saw the overseas return address on the letter - which had been returned due to insufficient postage.

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"The warning bells went off. It just didn't feel right," Long said. "I thought, 'What in the world? Mother doesn't know anybody in England.'"

Long's instincts were right.

It is illegal to sell foreign lotteries in the U.S., said Nick Greaves, president of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland.

U.S. federal law also prohibits mailing payments to purchase any ticket, share, or chance in a foreign lottery, Greaves said.

He said foreign lottery offers similar to the one sent to Deneen have surfaced in other parts of the country. Deneen's letter is the first local illegal lottery solicitation the BBB in Maryland knows about, Greaves said.

Most foreign lottery solicitations sent to U.S. addressees do not come from foreign government agencies or licensees. These solicitations come from fraudulent companies that seek exorbitant fees from people willing to play, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Thousands of U.S. citizens have been bilked out of millions of dollars for fraudulent foreign lottery purchases, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Those who pay the required fees typically never see any lottery tickets or any other evidence that lottery tickets were purchased on their behalf, Greaves said.

"If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is," he said. "It just looks to me like someone is trying to get $18 out of Mrs. Deneen's pocketbook. I'd be willing to bet that this won't be the end of it."

It wasn't.

Within days after finding the phony French lotto letter, Long said, another foreign lottery offer was sent to her mother from Australia.

It's likely that Deneen's name is on a mailing list, Greaves said.

Senior citizens are often the targets of mail scams, he said, but seniors and other scam victims often feel too embarrassed to come forward when they realize they've been taken for a ride.

"It makes you wonder," Deneen said. "I guess they prey on older people. We're the most gullible."

Long said she wants to forewarn other Washington County residents - especially senior citizens - about the foreign lottery scam.

"I don't want to see anyone take advantage of the older people," Long said. "I think it's a shame."

If you receive a mailed lottery solicitation that you think may be illegal, contact your local Better Business Bureau and turn the entire mail piece over to your local postmaster or to the nearest postal inspector.

The BBB makes complaint information available to law enforcement agencies through a Federal Trade Commission computerized data collection program, Greaves said.

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