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Lottery scam emails are increasing at an alarming rate, according to Fraudwatch International, the Australian website that protects consumers from identify theft. Last month FraudWatch International received over 1000 variations, double the number of phishing email scams.

Consumers are paying big dollars to have their bogus winnings released to them. "If it wasn’t working, the number of emails wouldn’t be increasing," FraudWatch managing director Trent Youl said. "Victims are contacting us every day asking for assistance to recover their lost money. The bottom line is, once the fraudsters have it, recovery is unlikely."

The scam usually begins with an email claiming the recipient has won a lottery. They are to contact a claims agent to collect their winnings, typically at a free email address. The claims agent sends his victims a claim form, and asks for copies of their passport and driver’s license to verify their true identity. This is where the scam begins. The fraudsters now have enough information to duplicate the consumer’s identity.

The responding consumer receives an email with three options of how to collect their winnings. They can have the money wired to their bank account, they can open an account with a specified bank (bogus), or they can pick up their winnings personally. In most cases, they need to pay an advance fee.

If victims do not want to pay upfront fees, they can open an (online) account with a specified bank, whose "policy" requires a deposit of around $3,000. This bank, however, is fake. Alternatively, victims are able to pick up their money personally by travelling to places such as Amsterdam, where they are required to pay a release fee in cash, and receive their winnings in counterfeit currency. Last year, most lottery scams emails originated from the Netherlands; lately the majority of the emails come from Madrid, Spain. ®

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