Losing By “Winning” – Scam Foreign Lotteries

by Debra N. Diener J.D. CIPP G


I was at my local Post Office where a very eye-catching brochure caught my attention.  Turns out, it’s a very informative brochure with tips compiled by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in partnership with AARP.  The brochure is well done both visually and substantively.  The brochure’s theme pops out due to great graphics, the bold purple cover and the words blazoned on the cover.  The cover says “If You Have To Send $250 To Claim Your Prize Odds Are It’s A Scam — Don’t Risk It”.

The brochure outlines how the scam works:

  • You get a phone call or email or mail notification telling you you’ve won a foreign lottery;
  • How can you claim your prize? The communication says you only need to mail or wire a small dollar amount for taxes and fees to claim your prize.

Never, ever do this — whether it’s a communication from a domestic or foreign lottery.  As is noted in the brochure, “No legitimate lottery should ask you for money to claim your prize.”

Why is AARP partnering with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service? Because older Americans are often targeted by any number of scammers.  So AARP and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service offer some sound tips for those of us with older friends and relatives.  The following are some of the tips highlighted in the brochure —these suggestions have to be done, of course, with the consent of the older person:

  • Talk with them about scams in general;
  • See if they are getting frequent unknown domestic or international calls;
  • Monitor their accounts to see if there is unusual activity (e.g., monies being withdrawn to be wired);
  • Be attentive to repeated wire-transfers of checks made out to cash.

AARP and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service both have websites where you can learn more about foreign lottery scams.  AARP’s website is:http://www.aarp.org/protectyourfinances and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s website is: http://www.DeliveringTrust.com.

I recommend stopping by your local Post Office to see if they’ve got this brochure.  It would be a trip well worth your time.


Ms. Diener is now an independent consultant on privacy, identity management, information protection and risk management. She served in senior managerial, legal, policy and legislative positions in all three branches of the Federal government. In addition to her privacy expertise, Ms. Diener played a lead role on such important domestic and international issues as criminal justice/law enforcement and financial services. She speaks frequently at industry and governmental conferences and meetings.