A few days ago, on the news, I heard the heartbreaking story of a senior citizen becoming the unsuspecting victim of the infamous lottery scam. While shopping, an elderly female was approached by a man who asked for her help in cashing his “winning” lottery ticket.
This man stated, because of his immigration status, he could not claim the lottery prize. Soon thereafter, this senior citizen took more than $20,000 from her bank account in exchange for a share of the proceeds from this so-called winning lotto ticket.
As almost always happens in the lottery scam, the man quickly disappeared with the victim’s hard-earned money.
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.
A 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 an innocent victim into putting up so-called “good faith” money to share in a large sum of cash that one of the swindlers “just found.”
Of course, once the unsuspecting victim (“the pigeon”) turns over their hard-earned bucks, he or she realizes that the scammers are gone — as is the victim’s “good faith” money.
Scam artists have put a new twist on the old “pigeon drop.” According to the Texas Lottery Commission, over the last few years, innocent consumers have lost millions of dollars in this version using bogus or altered lottery tickets.
Here’s how this lottery fraud works:
Swindlers will 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 very sad story about how they cannot collect on the “winning” ticket themselves because they either don’t have the “upfront” money to claim the prize, or that they are an illegal immigrant.
The bunko artist will then offer to “share” their lottery jackpot with the victim if they help them cash in their “winning” ticket. The con artist will usually ask the victim to go to their bank to put up some “good faith money” to show that the victim is “trustworthy.”
To add even more authenticity to their 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 will likely 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.
Once the victim enters the pharmacy or other business, the lawbreakers will quickly disappear with the victim’s money.
When it comes to winning lottery tickets remember the following:
1. Official state lotteries never require that any money be paid upfront in order to claim a prize.
Quick Security Tip: If a person tries to get advanced money from you to claim a lottery jackpot, get away from that person as soon as possible and immediately call the police.
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 person on the telephone is part of the sting.
4. Always use extreme caution if any person tries to rush you into giving them money so that you won’t have the time to call a family member or friend for advice or help.
Check out www.txlottery.org and contact your local state lottery office and law enforcement agency for more information.
My 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.
When you read about these scams, such as the “pigeon drop,” 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.
In these tough economic times, it pays to be especially alert as swindlers will often prey on human greed, or even a person’s financial anxiety, to attempt to lure an innocent victim into their heartless trap.
So remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it usually is.
© 2009 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce (Mandelblit.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His email address is: [email protected].
This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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