Lottery Scams

A reader of, LotteryChristoph, has reminded us of a particular type of scam called Lottery Scams, also called a Dutch Lottery or a 419 Scam or a lottery of various other European countries. These scams begin with a letter or email telling the victim they have won a lottery.

The email instructs the victim to contact a “claims agent” to collect their prize money. The agent then sends the victim a claim form to verify their identity. The fake agent is building rapport and making it appear that there’s a real agency behind the emails. The form is in fact used to collect personal information about the victim, such as their passport number and driver’s license number. This is where the identity theft begins.

If the victim asks for some proof of the agency’s legitimacy they often fax back a legal looking document (which of course doesn’t prove anything, it just makes the victim feel more comfortable). This web page has examples of the fax and other documents the scammers send.

The victim is then given some options on how to collect the alleged winnings. In each case the scammer is setting up the victim:

  • The winnings can be deposited directly to the victim’s bank account. This seems to be the more popular option. The scammer will request a large fee to make this happen (such as special taxes, insurance or legal fees). The scammer will end up keeping this money.
  • The victim has the option to open a new overseas bank account to receive the alleged winnings. The bank is fake, but the victim is told that the bank requires a large deposit to open the account.
  • The winnings can be picked up in person, often in The Netherlands. The victim will later be told that they have to pay a fee in cash to release the winnings. The victim is then given counterfeit prize money.

What to do:

  1. Don’t reply to the emails (or letters or phone calls). Don’t give the scammer any indication that you exist.
  2. Don’t send any money or provide any personal details.
  3. Report the scam to your local authorities.

It seems many people are victims of this particular kind of fraud. In most cases the scammers are never caught, and even if they are the money is usually never recovered. Please be aware of how common this scam is and help your colleagues, friends and family to be aware of it.

The scam works because people want to believe it’s real, even if they didn’t enter a lottery in a foreign country. It’s up to everyone to talk openly about it and increase awareness of it.

Unsolicited phone calls

Phone handsetThis one isn’t about security online but rather over the phone. The same concept could be applied to the online world. In fact, it’s not about a scam but about how some organisations carry out legitimate work without realising how it affects the security of their customers.

From time to time some organisations contact their customers to confirm their details and just to ask if they’re happy with the service. The phone call is often from a call centre (whether internal or outsourced), and the originating phone number is often not provided.

The operator introduces themself, asks if they’re speaking to the correct customer, etc. Then the operator, following their script, goes and asks the customer to verify they’re the real account holder (or other relationship to the organisation).

The operator asks something along the lines of “to confirm you are <yourname>, can you tell me your street address?”, or asks for some other private information such as your password, date of birth, etc.

In most cases there is nothing fraudulent happening here, and I suppose most people would carry on the conversation by providing the correct information. There may even be an incentive such as a prize for completing the phone call. But what just happened here?

The customer received an unsolicited phone call from a private number asking for their personal details.

While this situation (which happens often) may be legitimate, the organisations are asking their customers to throw caution to the wind and to compromise the security of their accounts.

There are two major points to raise here:

  1. People should never divulge private data (passwords, dates of birth) to someone they can’t be 100% sure is a legitimate representative of the organisation.
  2. Companies should never ask their customers to do so.

I have received such phone calls from large service providers and even from the local tax office (government department). When I refused to provide my details the person on the phone was at first surprised, then eventually said they can’t help me any further without following their script.

Now I have no way of knowing whether these phone calls were really from who they said they represented, but I believe they were because in both cases I had recently made significant changes to my account. But I refused to provide this information in this scenario, and anyone who values their privacy (and their money) should also refuse.

What if there’s a good reason to continue with the call? Here are a few suggestions,

  • Ask for the caller’s name and the department they’re calling from. Then find their phone number from a directory service and call them back. Don’t ask them directly for their phone number, this doesn’t prove very much. You need to go to a trusted 3rd party for their phone number (such as a phone book, directory assistance, the company’s web site).
  • Ask them to provide the information in writing.
  • Ask them questions that you consider private and that they should have available in their computer system. Questions along the lines of when and where did you open the account, how much was your last bill, your password. (In my examples above the operator wasn’t allowed to tell me because of their security policy, after which I politely ended the call).
  • And most of all let them know that you have no way of distinguishing them from a scammer and that their phone call sounds suspicious.

It’s up to everyone to be vigilant about security, both you and the service providers.