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Lottery scams get craftier

David Lazarus

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: If you get a letter telling you, "You won the lottery," I hope that somewhere amid your rejoicing, there is skepticism. Lottery scams are not new, but thanks to technology they are getting craftier. Here with a recent example is Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus. Hello, David.

David Lazarus: Good morning.

Radke: So how does this fancy scam work?

Lazarus: I looked at a case the other day where a woman in Southern California receives a letter from a lottery company saying, "Congratulations, you have just been pulled from a computer base and you are the lucky winner of a portion of $4 million," and there is a check included with the letter for $3,875. And here's one of the beautiful things: the check, for all intents and purposes, looks real. It's got routing numbers. It's the real deal, or so you think.

Radke: OK. So you've got a real-looking checking. Where does the scam come?

Lazarus: The scam comes because the letter says this check for, in this case nearly $4,000, is merely a down payment on the $125,000 that's coming your way. However, the letter explains that because of the insurance bond policy coverage, which is of course silly talk, but nobody knows that, you're going to have to send back -- via Western Union -- a little bit of money to cover some of the taxes. And this is getting a little bamboozling. The beauty of the scam, though, is they've sent you a check for $3,800 or so, they say, you don't have to wire all that back, just send back $2,800 and you'll still have about $1,000 in the bank, so clearly you're coming out ahead. Ah! The problem is because the check is a fake -- but you will not know it after you deposit it, you're going to have to wait until it clears or rather gets turned down by the bank that issued it -- you're going to be sending money to the scammers from your own account. That's the scam.

Radke: So the old advice holds: Don't send money.

Lazarus: The old advice holds: No free lunch. If you get a check in the mail that you are not expecting or that you do not know where it's coming from, walk away. Do not put it into your account. If you have questions, take it to your bank, ask them. And if you do deposit it into your account, for god's sakes, do not wire money to anybody until you see whether the check clears.

Radke: L.A. Times business columnist David Lazarus. I'm going to remember that, thank you.

Lazarus: Yes, do. Thanks.

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