2009-02-05 / Front Page

Canadian lottery scam letter fails, but family wants to warn others

By KIP BURKE news editor

The letter that came to Myrna Fortson's Thomson Road home promised a small fortune: $125,000 from a Canadian lottery she knew she'd never entered. And there was a very authentic-looking check made out in her name and address in the amount of $5,985. But the Canadian lottery rang a bell.

"I had read about these letters in the AARP magazine months ago," she said. "They were warning people about this then."

She had her son Mike contact The News-Reporter to spread the word that this scam is happening right here in Wilkes County. "If I got this letter, others probably got it too," she said. "I hope too many haven't fallen for it."

Wilkes County Sheriff Mark A. Moore said that reports of Canadian lottery scam letters are fairly common here, and worries that many of those who are taken by the scam don't report the loss out of embarrassment.

Although Mike Fortson reported the letter to the sheriff's office, the international reach of the scam makes postal authorities and Federal agencies more likely to catch the perpetrators, experts say.

In the Canadian lottery scam, the potential victim is sent a letter from a company in Canada claiming to be an official lottery agent. It instructs the recipient to deposit the check in their bank account, then make a wire transfer or moneygram to the Canadian company for a smaller amount. In the Fortsons' case, a "Nancy Jeffrey" in Alberta wanted them to call a claim agent to begin the claim process.

The problem is, although their check will be accepted by your bank at first, it will bounce sometimes weeks later, after the victim has sent very real money through the wire transfer.

There are several tip-offs that a letter or e-mail is a scam, experts say:

Legitimate sweepstakes will never ask you to pay fees or handling charges, service fees, or any up-front charges to receive a win. That's a sure sign of a scam.

Many of the letters say the recipient has won a lottery. Scam experts say it is impossible to win a lottery without buying a ticket; and the lottery does not contact you to tell you that you won.

Winner's notices from foreign lotteries are even more suspicious. Since it is illegal to sell tickets for foreign lotteries across international borders, unless you bought a lottery ticket in that country, the lottery notification is a scam.

Both Myrna and Mike Fortson are glad that they knew better when the Canadian lottery scam came calling, and they're speaking out because they're worried about others falling for it. "It seems so easy. They think there's $125,000 waiting for them just by sending in $5,000," she said. "Really, it's greed that drives people to fall for this."

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