5 On Your Side

Harnett County Woman Among Victims Of Lottery Scam

Posted February 22, 2006

— Five On Your Side has received recent e-mails asking about overseas lottery e-mails that are making the rounds. They often say the recipient won thousands of dollars. Some ask for passport, bank account or other personal information. Others ask you to call for more information, but eventually as one Harnett County woman found out, they all want your money.

In mid-January, LeeAnne Westbrook got a "Certificate of Award" from "Euro Lotto" in the mail, saying she won $95,000.

"I read it and I was like, 'This is for real. This is for real,'" she said. "Oh my Gosh. It blew my mind."

It arrived with a check for $1,960 to cover a "tax and clearance fee." Westbrook called the number on the letter.

"I was ecstatic and (the person on the phone) told me to calm down," she said.

He also told her to deposit the check, then call back in a couple of days for more instructions. To clear the bit of skepticism she had, Westbrook also called the number on the check. The person who answered told her it was all legit.

A few days later, she called for more instructions and was told to wire that $1,960 to an address in Canada to cover taxes, which made her really suspicious. So she called her bank and was told it was a scam. The check came back as "bogus."

"We were kind of heartbroken, but more feeling stupid that we fell for it," Westbrook said.

But at least Westbrook didn't send any money. The North Carolina Attorney General's Office gets about 115 lottery scam complaints a month, roughly 20 from people who lost money. And once they send that money, it's gone. Even if it's wired to a particular city, the scammer often using fake ID can pick it up at any wire service anywhere in the world. That makes tracking these scammers almost impossible.

Now, Westbrook just wants to get the real story out.

"I feel foolish. I really do and that's why I'd just like to tell everybody else not to fall for it," she said.

Keep in mind, if you deposit one of these bad checks, you are responsible for it, which means if you send money to the scammer, you have to pay back the bank. No matter what the e-mails and letters say or how real they sound, you did not win.


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