Police investigating lottery scheme

Towson woman, 90, lost $30,000 in fake fees

October 29, 2003|By Linda Linley | Linda Linley,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County police are working with Canadian authorities investigating a fraudulent lottery scheme that bilked a 90-year-old Towson woman out of $30,000 during the past year, officials said yesterday.

In addition to the Towson case, at least two similar schemes have been reported in the county in recent weeks, said Bill Toohey, a spokesman for the county Police Department. One case involves Canada and the other Israel. Both apparently targeted the elderly.

Toohey said the Towson victim was first notified by mail that she had won $1 million, but had to pay taxes and fees to collect the cash. She was told to wire the payments to an address in Canada, which she did, but she never received any lottery winnings.

During the next 12 months, she was contacted by the same con artists more than a half-dozen times, saying they needed more money before she could claim her lottery winnings, he said. Police were alerted to the fraud by the woman's son, Toohey said, but the woman had sent between six and 10 payments to the thieves.

Jimmy White, director of communications for the Maryland State Lottery Commission, said a "red flag" should go up if someone asks for money up front to claim a lottery prize.

"There are no taxes or fees paid in advance," White said yesterday. "We hear about the foreign lotteries from time to time, and we refer them to the state attorney general's office."

Toohey said the thieves in the lottery fraud probably are still working out of Canada, but tracking them down will be difficult. Once the money leaves the United States, it is hard for law enforcement officials to track, he said.

The Federal Trade Commission also is warning citizens about what it calls cross-border fraud. FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris testified last month before a House subcommittee that cross-border fraud is on the rise, with an increasing number of FTC cases involving foreign companies.

Federal law enforcement authorities said they have been destroying millions of foreign lottery mailings sent to the United States. The U.S. Postal Inspection Services estimates that with the solicitations that get through the mail, consumers are spending as much as $120 million a year on the schemes.

Toohey said victims of these schemes can call the county Police Department's Economic Crimes Unit at 410-887-2190.

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