International Lottery Scams
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“Congratulations! You may receive a certified check for up to $400,000,000 U.S. CASH!
One Lump sum! Tax free! Your odds to WIN are 1-6.”
“Hundreds of U.S. citizens win every week using our secret system!
You can win as much as you want!”
Sound great? It’s a fraud.
Scam operators — often based in Canada — are using the telephone and direct mail to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries from as far away as Australia and Europe. These lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.
Still, federal law enforcement authorities are intercepting and destroying millions of foreign lottery mailings sent or delivered by the truckload into the U.S. And consumers, lured by prospects of instant wealth, are responding to the solicitations that do get through — to the tune of $120 million a year, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, says most promotions for foreign lotteries are likely to be phony. Many scam operators don’t even buy the promised lottery tickets. Others buy some tickets, but keep the “winnings” for themselves. In addition, lottery hustlers use victims’ bank account numbers to make unauthorized withdrawals or their credit card numbers to run up additional charges.
The FTC has these words of caution for consumers who are thinking about responding to a foreign lottery:
- If you play a foreign lottery — through the mail or over the telephone — you’re violating federal law.
- There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none.
- If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment “opportunities.” Your name will be placed on “sucker lists” that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell.
- Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.
The bottom line, according to the FTC: Ignore all mail and phone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions. If you receive what looks like lottery material from a foreign country, give it to your local postmaster.
Promotions for foreign lotteries and sweepstakes usually are phony and entering is always illegal.
Can Non-US Residents Play to Win the Lottery?
Are you eligible to win the lottery if you don’t live in the US?
Have you ever wondered who’s eligible to play the lottery in the United States?
Here are some common questions about buying lottery tickets:
- Can you buy tickets if you aren’t a US resident, but want to win one of those huge lottery jackpots?
- Can you buy US lottery tickets if you’re a citizen or a resident of a foreign country?
- Can you cross state lines to buy lottery tickets?
- What if you don’t have legal permission to be in the United States? Will you be able to claim the prize money if you win?
Here’s everything you need to know about who can and can’t play the lottery in the United States.
Who Can Play Mega Millions, Powerball, and Other US Lotteries?
You can buy US lottery tickets, win the Powerball and the Mega Millions lotteries, and collect your jackpot no matter what your US residence status is.
While there is an age restriction (you have to be at least 18 to play), adults can buy tickets in any state which offers the lottery even if you’re not a United States citizen, if you don’t live in the state selling the ticket, or even if you don’t live in the country at all.
Of course, since non-US residents are eligible to buy the tickets, they’re also eligible to claim the prize money should they win.
However, be aware that where you live will affect what happens when you win. For example, different states have different rules about whether lottery winners can remain anonymous.
Countries outside of the United States have different laws about how lottery prizes are taxed and how much money must be withheld from your winnings. If you do win, be sure to consult with a tax professional for more information.
If you’re trying to enter a lottery other than the Powerball or Mega-Millions games, check the rules before you enter for eligibility information.
Can you Buy US Lottery Tickets from Outside of the United States?
While non-US residents can enter and win the lottery, there’s a caveat: You have to actually be in the country to legally buy US lottery tickets. It’s illegal to buy lottery tickets over the internet or by mail — with some rare exceptions, such as a lottery app run by a company that sends an employee to physically buy tickets for its customers.
This’s important to keep in mind because many lottery scams trick people into believing that they’ve won lotteries from foreign countries. You can only win a foreign lottery if you bought a ticket while you were in that country. If you didn’t, you can throw those scam win notices away.
There are also scam websites that will take your money and promise to buy lottery tickets for you. Approach these sites with caution and be sure to check the company out carefully before handing over any money. Doing an internet search for the company’s name together with the word “scam” is a good first step.
Can an Undocumented Alien Win a US Lottery?
Because there are no residency restrictions about who can enter US lotteries, illegal immigrants can buy tickets and can claim their winnings. However, claiming the lottery winnings might make an illegal immigrant feel vulnerable to deportation.
For example, in 2011 Jose Antonio Cua-Toc won a $750,000 lottery and was afraid to claim it because he didn’t have a legal residency status. When he asked his boss to claim it for him, the boss took the money for himself.
However, winning the lottery might smooth the road to a green card. If you’re an undocumented immigrant and you have a winning lottery ticket, you should consult a legal professional before claiming your prize.
Can Felons Win Lottery Jackpots in the United States?
Rules vary from state to state, but in most cases, felons can legally buy lottery tickets and win jackpots.
In December of 2014, a story broke about Timothy Poole, a sex offender who won over $2 million in the Florida Super Millions scratch-off lottery.
Poole was convicted in 1999 of sexually battering a nine-year-old boy who was a friend of his family. Poole pleaded innocent but took a plea bargain, which included over a year in jail and registration as a sex offender.
The Florida lottery doesn’t have any restrictions regarding the criminal background of the entrants, which means that Poole received a lump sum of $2,219,807.90.
Many people were horrified to think that a sex offender could receive such an enormous prize. On the article linked above, Toni Tommas commented that it “Almost makes me question the existence of God.”
While some people think it’s wrong that murderers and sex offenders can win millions from the state, others find it would be unfair to prevent someone from playing the lottery after they’ve paid for their crime and served their time.
There is a bright side to a felon winning a lottery jackpot, however; It might give the victims a way to be compensated for damages or restitution in a civil trial. It’s hard for a felon to claim he or she can’t pay when they have publicly won a lottery jackpot.
Who is eligible to buy US lottery tickets? Can a non-US resident claim a Powerball or MegaMillions lottery? What about illegal immigrants?