DOJ: News Release

Attorney General and Lottery Director Warn About Foreign Lottery and Check Cashing Scams

HELENA – Montana Lottery Director George Parisot joined Attorney General Mike McGrath at a press conference Thursday to warn Montanans about a number of well-devised, official-looking scams that are costing victims in the state thousands of dollars.

“While most of these notifications end up in the trash, technology has made it easier for con artists to produce counterfeit checks and other documents that look pretty convincing,” McGrath said. “Consumers need to be especially cautious because it’s becoming much more difficult to tell that this material is fake just by looking at it.”

Foreign Lottery Scams

“Everybody wants to believe good news, especially when it involves winning large sums of money,” Parisot said, “but consumers are at serious risk if they respond to unofficial, lottery-related solicitations.”

Almost daily, Parisot and McGrath said, the Office of Consumer Protection, Montana Lottery Security and local law enforcement agencies are getting calls from consumers about unsolicited e-mails, letters or phone calls that tell them they have won a major prize in an international lottery. The question is always the same, “Is this real?” and the answer is always “No.”

“Montanans need to remember that you cannot win a lottery when you have not bought a ticket,” Parisot added. “And playing an international lottery by mail or phone from the United States is illegal.”

Examples of recent calls to the Office of Consumer Protection include:

  • A Montana woman received a mailing and a $2,900 check for a sweepstakes she had entered over three years ago. When she called the number given for further information, the telemarketer told her that she needed to wire $1,900 back to the company to reimburse the expenses it had incurred in locating her, and that she had to do so by a certain date to ensure that she would win the prize. Fortunately, her bank put a 10-day hold on the fake cashier’s check and she sought the advice of her grandmother, who warned her not to send any money because the check was counterfeit.
  • Another Montana woman received a lottery packet in the mail and called for further instructions. She was told to deposit the check into her account and wire back $2,000 to cover the handling fees for the lottery she won. The consumer deposited the check at her credit union, which put a 10-day hold on the check and later notified her that it was counterfeit, before she sent off the $2,000.

Parisot explained that legitimate lotteries:

  • only sell their lottery products within their respective jurisdictions – Montana businesses can only sell Montana lottery tickets
  • never require a “good faith” showing – they won’t ask you to send money up front to confirm your identity before you get your winnings
  • never require handling fees or shipping fees
  • never require up-front, cash payment of taxes – tax withholdings are taken from the winning jackpot check

If you do win a lottery in Montana, you can confirm that you have a winning ticket at no cost at any business that sells lottery tickets.

Counterfeit Check Scams

McGrath also said that the Office of Consumer Protection is getting at least five or six phone calls a day from people asking if a check they’ve been sent is real or, even worse, asking what do after they have cashed a check, wired all or part of it as they were asked to do, and then found out the check was counterfeit.

Examples of recent calls to the Office of Consumer Protection include:

  • A woman who had a horse for sale was contacted by someone in the Netherlands, who sent her a counterfeit check and instructed her to send $4,000 back to the shipping company. She wired the money via Western Union and now owes the bank $4,000.
  • A consumer who was advertising for renters went to the bank with two checks that were sent to him by someone in California who claimed they wanted to rent his apartment. They asked him to wire 5 percent back to their company. The bank worker called the bank the checks were drawn on. Everything seemed to be legitimate but the check numbers were not valid and the checks were not written by the company.
  • A mother called for her 19-year-old son, who was scammed by someone from overseas. The son’s friend was sent a $4,500 check in the mail, and was instructed to keep 10 percent but wire the remainder back. The friend didn’t have a checking account, so she asked the woman’s son to cash the check through his account, which he did. The check was counterfeit and the son owes his bank $4,500.

“Consumers need to understand that, once money is wired, it’s gone. There is no getting it back,” McGrath said. “And the problem is compounded by the fact that many of these scams are run by people outside the United States in countries where my office and the consumer have no legal recourse.

“These con artists really are good at getting your money,” McGrath warned. “In some cases, they will even list a bank phone number on the counterfeit check. When consumers call the number to make sure there are sufficient funds to cover a check before they cash it, it’s really a direct line to the con artist. And of course they say they are the real bank and that there are funds to cover the check.”

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