Picture of Donna Harlow

Great news! You just received a letter in the mail saying you won big from the lottery! The problem? You never entered a lottery or even paid for a lottery ticket. But the letter looks official, so it must be true, right?

Unfortunately, letters like that are often sent targeting senior adults. Recently, a news story from KARE 11 came out from Minnesota where a community member living in a senior facility excitedly showed a neighborhood police officer her letter from the lottery.

The police officer pointed out that the letter was from the New York lottery, which was suspicious. The most suspicious part of the letter; however, was it stated that the “winner” must first send money for “processing fees” and must cash a strange enclosed check to receive their prize.

This is not an uncommon or new scam. It has been going on a long time throughout the United States.

A 76-year-old client presented a check to an Old National associate, believing they had won $7,000 from the lottery. Like the Minnesota incident, the client had a letter to prove it. The letter had asked the client to cash an enclosed check, then return a certain amount of that money to pay taxes for their winnings.

Fortunately, the Old National associate suspected an “advanced fee” scheme. The associate called the bank that the check was drawn on and confirmed the check was unauthorized and part of a scam.

Once a person is a victim, they are a target for future scams. The victim of a lottery/sweepstakes scam may be approached by a new fraudster. The new fraudster will use the ruse that they’re a company who helps victims. They will convince the victim that for a small fee they can refund or recover their losses.  In the end, it is another type of advanced fee scam.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there are federal and government agencies and consumer organizations that help people who have lost money, but they don’t charge a fee. These organizations also do not guarantee the person will get their money back. Make sure you research any such organization and are sure they are legitimate before engaging with them. 

Red flags to look for:

  • Winning a lottery that you did not enter. If you didn’t purchase a lottery ticket in New York, you wouldn’t receive a prize out of the blue.
  • Receiving notification from an unknown source through text message, email, US mail or courier delivery that you have “won” money, vacations or prizes.
  • Receiving an unexpected payment connected to winnings. If you receive a check with instructions to cash it but return a certain amount to “cover fees,” that is a scam.
  • A request to pay fees or taxes in order to receive money or prizes.  Never pay money to get money.
  • Seems too good to be true.

What to do

When you receive an unexpected and suspicious check or prize notification:
  • Call local authorities if you have concerns.  If they can’t help
  • Report the incident to the FTC through their website.
  • Shred all the documentation
  • Hang up the phone! If you receive a call that you have won a prize and you didn’t enter – just hang up.

Schedule a Money Safety for Seniors Workshop.

Learn how to detect, protect against and report the financial exploitation of seniors. Old National offers this course to community groups at no cost.

Donna is a Senior Loss Prevention Analyst, CFE and part of the Fraud Prevention and Investigations Department at Old National. This group is responsible for investigating and responding to bank-related fraud situations, as well as training and educating associates and clients about fraud.

This content is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice or indicate the suitability of any product or service for your unique circumstances. You are encouraged to consult with a qualified legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professional based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.