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Lottery News and Stories

Scammed over the centuries: Only defense is not to play

Monday, April 17, 2006 posted 01:47 AM EDT

The story last month about the Philomath-area couple who had been scammed out of nearly $56,000 by an aggressive woman who promised them $74,000 in lottery winnings — provided they pay an insurance fee — evoked mingled feelings of outrage and incredulity.

It’s comfortable to assume we’re all too savvy to fall for scams, but it’s untrue. These scams work because they are tried and true. Many of them — notably the “lost prince” scam — can be traced back to the “Spanish prisoner” scheme of 1588. Back then, the piteous appeal arrived by a fledgling overseas mail; now it arrives in a blink via e-mail. The basic “hook” is the same: An imaginative, evocative, romantic and sometimes humorous pitch that promises to share a large fortune in exchange for emergency cash. It’s just one of many, most of them now originating out of Nigeria.

“This is a cottage industry there,” said Jan Margosian of the Consumer Fraud Division of the Oregon Department of Justice. “You have people in wireless cafes who do nothing else.” The Japanese and Americans are the top targets.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Internet Enforcement Complaint Center (, the top money-making phone and Internet scams these days, in order, are the online “phishing” expeditions seeking personal and financial data by posing as a legitimate online entity; Nigerian-based scams; and the lottery scam that snared the Philomath couple.

As with nuclear war, the only way to win is not to play. They crooks are already way ahead of those they call. They use stolen cell phones and discard them after a few days. They move around, operating out of wireless Internet cafes and are almost impossible to catch. That doesn’t mean that Oregon officials aren’t interested in hearing about scam attempts when they crop up.

The Oregon State Police have a Gaming Enforcement Section that wants to know about lottery scams. Call detective Rich Dennis of the Gaming Enforcement Division at 503-540-1409. The SEC invites people who believe they may be targets of investment-related “scam spam” to forward information to

Oregonians reported 1,541 complaints of the top three frauds to the U.S. Secret Service, Margosian said. How many arrests? None. Authorities are still hopeful but offer the usual advice: Hang up, delete and never respond.

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