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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Inside Out - South: Monday January 10 & February 21, 2005

MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR LOTTERY SCAM

Financial papers
Big numbers are the attraction on both sides of the scam

Organised criminals are behind a scam that relieves elderly people of millions of pounds of life savings. They are deluded into thinking they have won a fortune on a Canadian lottery that doesn't even exist.

The criminals clean up, but Inside Out reveals more.

Police officers in Canada say the UK is the next major target and the criminals running this multi-billion dollar scam deliberately seek out the vulnerable and those over 60-years-of-age.

Consumer groups in Britain warn people not to respond to telephone calls asking them to send money to claim "winnings" from a lottery or draw.

How it works

The scam starts when people respond to mailings or telephone calls telling them they are being entered in a national lottery or prize draw, often from Canada, Australia or Spain.

Canadian police sergeant Barry Elliott
Sgt Barry Elliott is on the trail of the scam perpetrators

The unsuspecting punter then receives a 'phone call congratulating them on winning a big prize.

The caller tells them they must send money to pay taxes, or processing fees, before the prize money can be sent out.

But - here's the hit. No such lottery exists and no winnings are ever sent.

Canadian police sergeant Barry Elliott, who has spent years gathering information on the criminal gangs, says Britain's wealth and aging population have made it the next major target.

"You can just smell the money, so I can see why the criminals are after this market. It's a really hot market," he insists.

Half a million in the bag?

Victims of the scam include a Hampshire couple who lost £9,300 in just 10 days.

Warwick Pelta, of Southampton, received a call to say he'd won £500,000.

Warwick Pelta
Warwick Pelta took extreme measures to address the problem

But the caller said he needed to pay £1,600 in duty.

Over the next week he received several follow up calls asking him to pay additional costs and taxes.

In the end Mr Pelta and his wife had to take out a second mortgage to pay off the debt.

"I felt an absolute idiot and sick to my stomach," Mr Pelta tells Inside Out.

Anyone can get stung

Most victims are too embarrassed to complain even though research shows most of them to be well educated and active.

Inside Out tracks down another victim - a retired circuit judge.

His Honour, Ian Starforth Hill, who lives near Winchester, sent off £10 after receiving a letter that claimed he'd won £20,000.

He explained: "Ninety per cent of me said this is absolutely bogus but I wanted to prove to myself it was, so I sent off the money. All my family told me I was mad as I'm sure I was, looking back on it."

His Honour, Ian Starforth Hill
Despite his experience with the law the judge was duped too

However the retired judge wrote a postscript on the form he returned.

"I told them that if I didn't get the £20,000 or my money back I'd sue them," he said.

But he has paid the price for sending the money. Not only did he lose it but he's since been inundated with similar letters.

Simple advice

Sgt Elliott says he's seen people's lives ruined by the scam.

He says elderly people who have lost their life savings then worry they've become a burden on their families.

Gordon Skates sent off scores of cheques convinced that eventually he'd get his winnings.

He lost a relatively small amount but believes the fraud is a particularly nasty one.

"It's evil in a different way to taking someone's money.

"It can destroy people, indeed it came very near to destroying me. It's now come to a stage when I'm frightened to pick up the mail."

Sgt. Elliott doesn't mince his words either and says the criminals behind the crime can be very cruel.

Gordon Skates
Gordon Skates was inundated with letters calling for his money

He says: "Paedophiles used to top my hate list but now out of a paedophile or a telemarketing criminal I'm not sure which I hate more."

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) offers the following advice:

  • If you have doubts about a caller hang up
  • Never send any money to claim a prize
  • Never give out private financial information
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is

Consumer organisations are keen to hear from people who believe they may have fallen for this scam.

They advise people to contact their local trading standards office or telephone an OFT inquiry line on 0845 722 4499. Alternatively they can write to the OFT at:

International Enforcement Team
OFT
Fleetbank House
2-6 Salisbury Square
London EC4Y 8JX

If you feel you have been a victim of a scam of this nature - e-mail us today with the form below.

See also ...

Inside Out: South
Bogus cancer cure exposed
Rogue energy sales people

On the rest of Inside Out
Fraudulent insurance claims

On bbc.co.uk
Britain targeted in lottery scam
European Lottery scam
Couple lose money in scam
Northern Ireland targeted in lottery scam
Have you been duped?

On the rest of the web
Office of Fair Trading
Financial Services Authority

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Catherine Kent
My elderly parents are falling victim to many scams which seem to be unending. They are sending money and believe they are going to be huge winners. They do not believe me or anyone from the family. I have even got someone from the police to talk to them - they won't believe it. I cannot get Power of Attorney without compliance from them - it is a long and costly journey to do that. Mail preference service takes 3 months meanwhile they are still active in replying to letters. Is there nothing we can do to stop it? My father is a retired priest and has never had much money but now he is just throwing it away. I go in and steal letters when I see them but many more are arriving every day.

Gary Johnson
I am a postman and I can tell you that all the rounds I have done in recent years has at least 1 or 2 customers who get up 10 or more of these letters every day. The round I do at the moment has one customer who has piles of these letters and two others who have quiet a few. It is very easy to tell who they are.

G.Perrett
I now receive at least 2 or 3 of these A DAY, but from several different countries. Stupidly I replied to one (with a postal order - no personal details) weeks ago - is there any way of stopping the mailing? I would have thought that if one didn't respond then they'd stop sending as a waste of time. I will contact my local tradings office,but what can they do to companies abroad?

Andrew Gale
I have been working as an agency worker postman for 1 month now and I have delivered literally thousands of these scam letters now so there is nothing personal about them, they're delievered to probably millions of people - not just a few lucky ones. It's really saddening because my wages probably came from these companies who recieved money from poor innocent people who have been suckered in. To top it off, I have to deliver them, it's an offence for me to open, steal, destroy or intercept them. I can only advise the recipient should they approach me about their mail, but even then it's none of my business!!!

Barbara Smith
My 86 year old mother, normally a sensible woman who managed to raise 5 children single handedly after my father died when we were all very young, has been responding to these letters for well over 10 years, sending cheques and then cash when she runs out of cheques. This escalated hugely last year and a wonderful person at her Bank has been helping me to try to control this for the past 6 months however there does not seem to be anyone who can offer practical advice as to how we can stop her. Since mother is housebound, if the Post Office would agree to divert all her mail, that would almost instantly resolve the problem, (other than the phone calls made to her by scammers she gave her phone number to), but the PO won't stop or divert her mail unless she agrees which she obviously won't because she is absolutely convinced she has a big cheque coming soon. I contacted her doctor for help but he said it's up to her what she does with her money, yes, even if she loses her house. Everyone is keen to tell you to put such letters in the bin, but no-one tells you how to intervene once your elderly relative has begun responding. My mother was sending cheques to the value of £150 a day until I took away her cheque book and cash card, which she'd also provided details of. All the Canadian, Australian, various US scammers, so-called psychics and clairvoyants in Austria and Switzerland have their hooks into her. There does not appear to be any help available to us that we can use to save our relatives. We've managed to intercept maybe 25% of her outgoing mail but she gets all and sundry to post mail for her. My mother only has her old age pension and I fear that if I give her back control of her bank account, she will have lost everything within at most 6 months. In the meantime, she hates me for standing between her and thousands of pounds of "winnings" and I'm therefore damned whatever I decide to do.

David Martin
A neighbour of mine nearly got caught by this scam and sent evidence to the authorities. letters were rec'd from canada, ireland, netherlands to name a few.

Marc Brigginshaw
It may be worth making people aware of the existance of the Telephone Preference Service and the Mailing Preference Service. These are services where you can remove your telephone number and address respectively from lists preventing further unwanted calls and letters. There is also a Fax Preference Service for people who may be getting unwanted adverts through their fax machine. This service gives individuals the right to indicate that they do not want unsolicited direct marketing calls etc. Under Government legislation introduced on 1st May 1999 and replaced on 11th December 2003 by the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003, it is unlawful to make unsolicited direct marketing calls/faxes to individuals who have indicated that they do not want to receive such calls. I don't know how effective this will be in preventing scams from abroad, but at least it will significantly reduce the junk calls and mail some people are presently getting. Telephone Preference Service: www.tpsonline.org.uk To register: 0845 0700707 or online Mailing Preference Service www.mpsonline.org.uk To register: 0845 7034599 or online Fax Preference Service www.fpsonline.org.uk To register: 0845 0700702 or online.

David Summers
I am currently being "cultivated" by what I believe to be on of these scams. They are currently after my phone No which I haven't provided. Presumably, they want this to call me and get the tax/ duty on my "winnings" of 600,000 Euros.

G.Perrett
So far I've had these "winning" letters from Colchester, Canda, Las Vegas, Kansas and Bristol!Almost every day one or two come through the letterbox. A few months back I sent a PO (I wouldn't dream of giving my card details)for £5 to one one them, knowing full well it wasn't "real" but then I buy a lottery ticket every week, knowing I'm never going to win..... Now I am obviously on some huge scam mailing list. The small print on the back of the last one to go in the bin stated categorically that you did not have to send money to be entered into the draw, but I'm sure that is not the case. I'm actually thinking of saving them all now just to see how many I end up receiving. I must have received over 10 so far.

Philip Taylor
I was very pleased to catch the tail end of your program on prize scams and the following story will come as no suprise to you. My retired father in his late 70 's began to receive unsolicted mail and prize awards three years ago. He lived alone, quite self dependant, some 140 miles away from us in S.Wales and suffered a stroke 2 years ago, which left him with dementia and utimately he moved to a nursing home after hospitalization. In sorting his affairs and obtaining Power of Attorney, I discovered that for a period of at least a year he had been obsesively sending cheques ~10 - 15 per day to these prize administrators and have wasted over £35,000.00. The prizes awarded never materialized and all he has to show for this "investment" is a box of junk jewelery and a few black and white portable TV's. Barclays Bank continued to send him new cheque books on an almost daily rate to keep up with the demand. This should have flagged concern at the bank and a call to relatives to alert than of the potential problem. Each day up to 30 award notices arrived in the post and this continued for almost 2 years. I have retained these in the hope that some day I could pass them onto an authority or watchdog organization to highlight the scale of the problem and help other targetted individuals. I am convinced that once my father began to realize the damage that these scams had on his finacial security this triggered his stroke and ultimately his dementia. I would be happy to provide the mail to a researcher and provide specific evidence ( bank account movements) to the appropriate authorities. Thank you once again for highlighting this criminal activity. Philip Taylor

Mr k. humes of BERKSHIRE.
I also have had some letters sent to me, asking for a fee angthing from £9-00 to £20-00and more.One was telling me that I had won a car, the other£ 20.000. But I can say I have paid out only £12.99p,One was from york post code,Y01 9RA.The other was Macclesfield, code SK11 7QJ.I just hope the police get all of them. I thank you mr. k. humes.

john trueman
hi i get about 4 of these letters aweek some times it itsmore three/for each day in my post i have put ten of these in the bin i all got coned but only for £20 so lernt the hard way to now iam getting phone calls saying that i have won but you have to dial a primum rate number at £1.50 a min and goes on for about nine min thanks for highliting this on your show

Miss Bharti Varma
My dad gets loads of these everyday. I have written dozens of letters to these companies but they don't stop. I have tried to get Royal Mail to stop sending these particular type of letters being sent but nothing seems to have helped. Currently my dad is getting calls from a woman how claims that she is calling from Washington and says that my dad has won some money and she wants £450 from him. She calls at between one & two times a week but as yet my dad has not sent her any money. I am really concern about him and I don' know what else I should do or who else to contact.

Maxwell Steer
My mother has been the victim of these scams on several occasions. Unfortunately she is addicted to this kind of gambling - & will not hear reason on the subject.

Fiona Kitson
I have been contacted on many occasions by phone saying I have won cash or a prize. I was lured by a DVD player and phoned the premium phone line - of course no prize has ever appeared. Is this part of the same scam? I must get at lease 4 phone calls a week offering me prizes and money.

Brian Pike, South of France
Today, Monday, an elderly French neighbour came to us with an impressive looking document she had recieved, purporting to be a successful lottery letter, which was written all in English and she brought to me for translation. This particular scam did not even attempt to extort an initial sum by way of a "processing fee" but went straight for the jugular by including a second form in which one was asked to complete and return to the organisers in order to claim the prize. From memory, forename, last name, address, d of birth, full banking and credit card details, how the dosh was to be sent etcetera. The final section required the applicants signature! This particular con seems to originate in Madrid or Rome but who knows?

Rachel Rogers
My mother has received several of these letters advising her she has won vast sums of money. Her way of dealing with one was to use the reply envelope to thank the organisation for the prize and added that as she was rather short of ready cash the organisers deduct the money requested from her winnings before sending her the winning cheque. That stopped the letters coming!



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