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Consumer Alert - Foreign Lottery Scams

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San Francisco, Calif | February 06, 2013

"Congratulations, you're a winner! Claim your $600,000 cash prize today." It's hard to resist; the letter looks official. You were entered into a "foreign lottery." According to the Federal Trade Commission, law enforcement officials are intercepting millions of foreign lottery mailings sent to the United States. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service estimates that foreign lottery scammers gouge nearly $120 million from innocent victims each year. Many consumers are unaware that foreign lotteries are a violation of federal law. Senior citizens are often the target and do not realize that they are being scammed until it is too late. The following are a few tips to identify a potential scam:

Global Threat. While the fraudsters can be based anywhere in the world, a significant number of foreign lottery scammers are based in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain or South Africa.

Letters, email and phone calls are primary methods of notification. If you receive a notification by regular mail, telephone or email, be wary. Most legitimate lotteries use certified mail, FedEx or UPS to send notification. Don't be fooled by letters that look official and pushy fast talking telemarketers.

Never send money or give away your personal information. Fraudsters aggressively manipulate victims into sending or transferring money and providing personal account information to cover taxes, administrative fees and insurance. Steer clear, do not send a check, money order, wire or hand over your personal information to cover so-called taxes, insurance or administrative fees. Exposing this information gives fraudsters a free pass to begin making unauthorized transactions from your bank account or credit card. Providing personal information only heightens the risk of identity theft.

A check or money order enclosed with an award letter claims to cover taxes but is guaranteed to be counterfeit and fake. If you are asked to deposit the enclosed check and in turn write a check or send a money order to cover other "fees" in exchange for your lottery winnings, you are being scammed. The phony check will bounce and your money will end up in the hands of fraudsters.

Don't be fooled by fancy business titles. Fraudsters will use a number of titles such as attorney, claims agent and vice president to deceive victims. Protect yourself; don't let fancy business tiles cloud your judgment.

Never purchase a foreign lottery ticket. This will only expose you to more fraudulent offers and so called "investment" opportunities. You don't want your information circulated among fraudsters. Furthermore, U.S. law prohibits the sale or purchase of foreign lottery tickets through phone or mail offers.

Bank of the West wants to ensure that you are protected from international lottery scams. It is important to be aware of the tactics that criminals use to steal money from innocent victims. If you receive suspicious phone or mail solicitations for foreign lottery offers, contact your postmaster and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at (877) 382-4357. If you suspect that your account information has been compromised report the incident to Bank of the West customer service as soon as possible so that we can try to help you protect yourself and your accounts.

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