“Congratulations! You’ve won the Spanish National Lottery! To claim your prize, just send us cash to pay the taxes in advance.”
This is a scam the Federal Bureau of Investigation says thousands of people around the world have fallen for, sending an estimated $24 million a year to Nigerian criminals.
“People in Hawaii are actually receiving letters in the mail indicating they’ve won the Spanish lottery. Often times there is a photocopy of a check for millions of dollars,” said FBI special agent Tom Simon.
The catch: To get the money, you need to send an advance fee, usually a few thousand dollars.
“There is no Spanish lottery that’s taking people at random in Hawaii and awarding them as big winners,” Simon said.
Simon says the FBI is investigating three Oahu cases this year, all involving seniors. “There’s a senior citizen in Kailua who’s lost his entire life savings,” Simon said.
When the victim sends in the advance fee, they never get the lottery winnings.
Simon says the victims are always asked for more money and it can be hard to convince them they’ve been exploited.
“They don’t believe us. They’ve been dealing with the Spanish lottery people for so long, they just hold on to hope,” Simon said.
The FBI says the names and addresses of targets are collected through the Internet, and it’s working with Spanish national police to pursue the criminals.
The FBI warns this also opens the door to future identity theft.
About half of the victims are from the U.S.