Thursday, February 16, 2006

Beware of lottery check scams, district attorney warns

Staff Writer

So far, no Marshall Countians have fallen for a lottery check scam, but three or four have reported receiving letters of enticement, according to Ben Creekmore, district attorney for District 3 Circuit Court in Oxford.

Luckily, residents have either brought the letters and fake checks from fake lotteries to either Sheriff Kenny Dickerson or Circuit Clerk Lucy Carpenter’s office for verification, Creekmore said.

Assistant District Attorney Lani Hill provided general information on how con artists work these check scams. She said the letters look like they are official and the checks look real. Both are counterfeit, Hill said. More than one outfit is perpetuating the scam so all letters and check scams are not identical but have these similar traits in common.

“The letter will say, you’ve won the lottery, and will include a check for about $4,000 with it,” she said. “The letters use different names for the lotteries and different check amounts. They will say in order to for them to send you a check for the lottery you have won, you must pay the tax on it first.”

The letters use very large fake lottery sums - normally $250,000 or $500,000 - to draw the unwary into the scam.

“They will send you a check for about $4,000 with the letter and say the tax is like $2,000,” Hill said. “In the letter they provide a phone number to call.”

“They are hoping the person will cash the counterfeit check and then send them the money for the tax they’ve claimed to need to send them their winnings before the counterfeit check has bounced,” she said.

The consequences for falling for this lottery scam can be severe and varies.

The victim is out the bogus tax money they mail to the con artist. They will have to pay the bank back for the counterfeit check that bounced, if they spend any of it.

The telephone number looks like a free call but oftentimes is instead an out-of-country number where the caller can be billed thousands of dollars for the telephone call.

Creekmore said it is important first of all not to cash the check if you have not indeed played the lottery. Then call the Attorney General’s office of consumer protection and report the fiasco.

“Fortunately, no one in Marshall County has taken the bait so far,” Creekmore said. “So far as we know, people have reported the scam to the circuit clerk or sheriff.”

Hill said identity theft is also a big problem. She provided some tips to avoid theft of personal information such as Social Security Number and date of birth and a person’s name. Those three pieces of information are very important to protect, because taken together, identity thieves can have a field day at the victim’s expense, Hill said.

“We need to encourage people to remove their SSI number from their driver’s license and checks,” she said.

If a person’s SSI number is the same as their driver’s license number, a new driver’s license number can be obtained at the driver’s license office.

New checks can be ordered that include the new driver’s license number and that delete the SSI number. Never have your date of birth put on a personal check.

Watch out for calls from telemarketers or e-mails requesting personal identity information, Hill said.

“Your credit card company and your internet banking already have your information,” she said. “If you don’t know the person whose calling, go talk to your banker. Do not give anyone your SSI number, your banking account number or credit card number to anyone over the phone unless you know the person you are talking to and you initiated the call yourself.”

Hill said it is a good idea to get a copy of your credit report to make sure no one has been using your personal identification information to construct fake identification cards and documents.

The typical identification thief will use someone else’s name and personal information and put a fake address with it to perpetuate identity theft, without the victim finding out until months or perhaps years later, Hill said.

Also, don’t carry your SSI card in your wallet, she added, in case the wallet is lost or stolen.

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