ELLSWORTH – If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
That’s the advice from Ellsworth Police Chief John DeLeo for area residents who may receive letters that promise them lottery winnings but are intended to scam them.
Scammers are constantly on the prowl, most often using the Internet, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.
“Most of the scams we hear about are through the Internet because they can quickly put their work out to millions of people through the spam they use,” McCausland said Thursday. “We don’t hear much about mail. Most of them are using the less expensive way. With the Internet, they don’t have to put a stamp on it.”
Some, however, do use the mail, as a Bucksport resident recently discovered. Last weekend, Diana Ford received two letters notifying her that she had won a lottery in Spain. One letter went to an old address in Ellsworth; the other went to her new address in Bucksport. She threw the first letter away, but kept the second one after she had read through it.
“It was so detailed,” Ford said this week. “They were trying so hard to locate me. It seemed like it was legitimate.”
The letter, from the International Lotto Commission, informed her that she was a winner in the Loteria Primitiva and had won a cash prize of $9,426,120. The letter warned her about publicizing her winnings as part of the commission’s security measures.
It asked her to send proof of her identity and included the name of the claim agent and a phone number where he could be reached, encouraging her to contact him. So Ford did.
“At first, he asked me to send him my bank account number,” she said. “I told him I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. He said I could just send him a photo ID. I was so impressed. The guy sounded so genuine.”
Since her driver’s license didn’t contain much personal background information, it seemed like a safe thing to do, she said.
“I was getting into it and I made a copy of my license,” she said. “But I was still up in the air. I was still worried that it might be a scam.”
When she learned that another relative had received the same letter, she knew that it was and went right to the police.
The Spanish lottery is a variation of the Canadian lottery scam which has been around for several years, according to Charles Dow, a spokesman for Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe.
Often, the lottery scam letters include a bogus check and ask targeted victims to return a small portion of those winnings. By the time the bogus check is rejected by the local bank, the victim’s valid check has been cashed, and they have lost the money they sent.
“This is a different kind of scam than those charity scams that we see around the holidays,” Dow said. “These play on the tendency of people to believe that magic can happen, that something too good to be true has happened to you. It’s a different tendency that’s being exploited.”
Dow warned that the request for a passport or driver’s license is not as innocuous as it might seem.
“Your birth date and your Social Security number are the two pieces of information you need to establish an identity or to open lines of credit in another name,” he said. “You want to guard your Social Security number and birth date very carefully.”
There seem to be more reports of scams coming to police these days, according to Detective Dorothy Small of the Ellsworth Police Department.
“I don’t know whether people are more aware and are making more reports, or whether it is increasing,” Small said.