Money Watchers: Don't fall for foreign lottery scams

Too many trusting people have been fooled by a lottery scam.

"I believed that it was a real thing and that it was going to make our lives different," one victim said.

"It looked so real," said another, "and that's when I got scammed."

These consumers lost thousands of dollars in foreign lottery scams.

Operators used the phone and the mail to lure them with the promise of instant wealth.

The victims received fake checks or a letter saying they had hit the jackpot, even though they had never entered anything.

To collect their winnings, they were told they had to pay a fee, tax, or other expense.

"We're taking inspectors and some cases teams of inspectors to ports of entry of the United States to keep the mail from entering the mail stream," U.S. postal inspector Pamela Durkee said.

But the solicitations that get through cost victims $120 million in just a year.

"Look at the postmark on the letter. What country is it from? If the envelope has postage from a foreign country, immediately recognize it as highly suspicious and probably a sweepstakes fraud," Durkee said.

Con artists also use the phone. Telemarketers say they "guarantee" you have won valuable prizes like vacations, cars or cash. But again, they ask for a bogus fee up front.

Durkee said they often prey on the elderly.

"And they will befriend them and they will tell them what they want to hear and make them feel as if they made a new friend," Durkee said.

If you receive what looks like lottery material from a foreign country, use your common sense and give it to your local postmaster.

There is no way to win a lottery you haven't entered.