Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and N.D. U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon say telephone lottery scams have increased to epidemic levels in North Dakota.
The Consumer Protection division has received reports from across the state about these lottery calls. Unfortunately, despite several warnings issued by local, state and federal authorities, there have been several recent victims who have sent off hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in response to these phony prize notification calls. There are dozens of variations of the lottery winner telephone scam, but all of them have one thing in common: the supposed winner is instructed to send money before the prize can be released.
“If you are asked to send money before you can receive your prize, it is always a scam. It doesn’t matter what reason the caller gives, it is always a scam, every single time. Don’t make it easy for a thief to steal your money. If you get a call that you have won a lottery or sweepstakes, hang up immediately,” said Stenehjem.
Last fall, Stenehjem warned about scam artists pretending to be from Publisher’s Clearing House. In the current version of the scam, the caller claims the victim has won an international lottery with a cash prize of $2.5 million and a new Mercedes, but those prizes cannot be delivered to the winner until certain fees or taxes have been paid.
“Of great concern is the fact that these scammers often prey on the elderly. We all need to remind our older loved ones that there is never a valid reason for someone to require you to pay money up front before you can collect a prize.” said Purdon. “We are asking all North Dakotans to talk to their elderly relatives, friends, and neighbors and make sure they are aware of the dangers of telephone lottery scams.” Purdon said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is coordinating with FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security Investigations in an effort to crack down on the international crime rings that are running these lottery scams. In March, the U.S. District Court in Bismarck unsealed indictments filed by the North Dakota U.S. Attorney’s Office that charge fifteen individuals from the U.S. and Jamaica on allegations that they were involved in lottery scams that had allegedly targeted victims in North Dakota and South Dakota. Those cases are pending.
The scam artists identify themselves as lawyers, customs officials or lottery representatives, or even as federal officials, and tell people they’ve won vacations, cars or thousands — even millions — of dollars. The scam artist tells the individual to purchase one or more Green Dot, MoneyPak or PayPal cards to pay the fees, and then call the prize notification person with the identifying numbers on the card. Those numbers are all the scam artists need to drain the money off the card while the victim is still on the phone. Once the card numbers have been given to the scam artist, the money is gone and cannot be recovered for the victim.
Stenehjem said the scammers make use of technology in their scams, from auto-dialers which can place hundreds of calls a day and mapping programs to pinpoint the victim’s exact location, to prepaid cards and online payment options that give them instant access to the victim’s money. Scammers use internet based applications such as Google Map to give them information about their targeted victim or where they live, to make the victim believe the caller is in the local area.
Stenehjem and Purdon urged North Dakotans to hang up on these prize notification calls. They offered the following reminders:
- If you are asked to pay any money out of pocket before the prize will be released to you, it is a scam. It is also illegal under federal law.
- Never pay any money from your bank account or through money wire payments or payment cards like Green Dot MoneyPak, PayPal, or any other cards or form of payment.
- Never play along with the caller. Report the matter to the Attorney General’s Office or other law enforcement.
- Be suspicious of anyone asking you to send money and contact the Attorney General’s Office if you have questions or need assistance.