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Don't Be a 'Pigeon' for Lottery Scam Artists

By Bruce Mandelblit   |   Friday, 30 Jan 2009 10:51 AM

Two people approach an elderly while she is shopping and asks for her help in cashing their “winning” lottery ticket. Their immigration status prevents them from collecting the lottery prize, they tell her.

Soon thereafter, this senior citizen takes thousands of dollars from her bank account in exchange for a large share of the proceeds from the so-called winning ticket.

In this typical, and all-too-common, example, a trusting senior was ripped off to the tune of thousands of dollars taken as a cash advance on her credit card or removed from her savings account.

The lottery swindle, in its various forms, is a nasty deception that has been successful for generations. It is known in law enforcement circles as the “pigeon drop.”

In general, a pigeon drop occurs when con artists trick innocent victims into putting up “good faith” money to share in a large sum of cash that one of the swindlers “just found.”

Of course, once the unsuspecting victims (“the pigeons”) turn over their hard earned bucks, they realize that the scammers are gone, as is the “good faith” money.

Scam artists have put a new twist on the old scheme. During the past few years, victims have lost millions of dollars in this version, which often uses bogus or altered lottery tickets, according to the Texas Lottery Commission.

Here’s how this lottery fraud works:

Swindlers approach an unsuspecting consumer, often an elderly person, in a mall parking lot or grocery store, with an offer to “sell” a winning lottery ticket.

They usually tell a sad story about how they cannot collect on the “winning” ticket themselves for one reason or another, such as the common claim that they are illegal immigrants.

The bunko artists then offer to share the lottery jackpot with the victim if they help them cash in their “winning” ticket. The flimflammers usually ask the victim to go to his bank to for the good faith money to show that the victim is trustworthy.

To add authenticity to the rip-off, the perpetrators may stop at a lottery retailer and pretend to have their ticket validated, or they may act as if they are calling lottery officials to prove their ticket is legitimate.

Once the thieves get the victim’s cash, they probably will make up some excuse to get away. For example, they may pretend to be sick and ask the fraud victim to go into a pharmacy or store to buy them medicine. Then the lawbreakers quickly disappear with the victim’s money.

When it comes to winning lottery tickets, remember the following:

1. Official state lotteries never require upfront money to claim a prize.

Quick Security Tip: If a person tries to get advance money from you to claim a lottery jackpot, get away as soon as possible and call police immediately.

2. You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to claim a lottery prize.

3. Official state lotteries do not confirm over the telephone whether a ticket is a winner.

Quick Security Tip: If someone claims to validate a lottery ticket over the phone, you can almost bet that the telephone is part of the sting.

4. Always use extreme caution if anybody tries to rush you into giving him money so you don’t have the time to call a family member or friend for advice or help.

Final Thoughts: Con artists work day and night to find new ways to separate you from your money. Many times, these criminals will just put a new twist on the frauds that have been profitable for generations. Remember the old advice — if an offer seems too good to be true, it usually is.

When you read about these scams, it is easy to think that, “I would never fall for that.” Sadly, these thugs have honest faces and engaging personalities, and understand how to quickly obtain your trust – and pilfer your hard-earned money.

Bruce Mandelblit (Mandelblit.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.

This column is provided for general information purposes only. Check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.

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