Lottery Phone Scam Swindles 70k From Payson Woman

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A Payson woman recently lost nearly $70,000 in what has come to be known as the Canadian lottery scam.

She and numerous Arizonans have been bilked out of an estimated $200 million a year, according to Attorney General Terry Goddard.

Payson Police Officer Joni Varga, who has investigated several fraud cases in town, said the victims are contacted by phone and told they won a large sum of money in a Canadian lottery.

"In this case, the victim received a call from someone claiming to be from the Attorney General's Office," Varga said. "He said she had won $250,000 in a Canadian lottery and he was calling to tell her that she needed to wire money to pay the taxes on her winnings."

The woman's first wire was for $3,500 to a town in Ontario, Canada.

Varga said that once the scam artist realized they had successfully scammed the woman, they called her back and said that she had won more money and needed to pay more taxes.

"This happened over the course of a couple months and there were 13 different transactions," Varga said. "The people who called this woman said they were from the Attorney General's Office's lottery winning department."

Varga said the victim continued to wire various amounts of money to the scam artist.

"Once they found out that she was going to wire money and not ask any questions, they just kept asking for more," Varga said.

The victim's adult sons realized something was wrong during a visit with their mother.

"They started looking through everything," Varga said. "She is very embarrassed about it but I explained to her that she is not the only one who has fallen for it. The attorney general's office has an entire department looking into it."

In February, another local couple lost $1,500 in a similar foreign lottery scam. They believed they were sending money to cover fees for their "winnings" when the money was going to a Western Union office in Budapest, Hungary.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard is warning Arizonans about the Canadian lottery scam because of the number of victims who have contacted his office. According to Goddard, Arizonans have lost approximately $200 million to fraudulent schemes including the Canadian lottery.

"Unfortunately, the victims of these scams are seniors in our communities," Goddard said. "The new twist on this scam is the telemarketer is using the Arizona Attorney General's Office to try to legitimize it."

An article on the Arizona Attorney General's Office website said there's another version of the scam. Here's how it works: a caller tells the victim they have won a cash prize. The caller then puts another person on the phone -- who claims to be a lawyer or Canadian customs official -- to explain how you won.

All the victim is told to do is send a cashiers check to pay for Canadian customs.

Consumers should be wary of the following ploys:

Unsolicited calls asking membership into a "lottery pool;" mail notifications of substantial monetary winnings; requests to send cash to redeem prizes; and callers admonishing secrecy to keep winnings hidden from tax officials.

The Arizona Lottery has also published a flier warning people of the lottery scams.

Varga said seniors are often victims because they don't know how much fraud information is available on the Internet.

"The scam artist will call and let them know that they won a prize and because of the amount of information these people know about them they think it must be true," Varga said.

The report by the Payson Police Department will be forwarded to the Arizona Attorney General's Office and the fraud division of Western Union.

"There is only so much the Payson Police Department can do to investigate this kind of case because the scams often originate in foreign countries and all the information they give the victim is fake," Varga said. "Western Union will investigate if the loss is over $10,000 and will notify the FBI."

Varga said it is still important to call the police if you have been duped.

"We want to keep track of what is going on and if you are a victim of fraud, you report it to the local law enforcement agency," Varga said. "We can help guide you through the process of what to do."

Victims who want to get their phone numbers changed may have the fees waived by the phone company if they have a police report documenting harassment.

Varga said the Attorney General's Office website has lots of information on scams.

For more information visit www.azag.gov or call the Attorney General's Office at (800) 352-8431.

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