23rd Feb 2012
Earning loads of money without doing any work is just about everyone's dream. Around 3% of spam emails around the world take advantage of this natural behavioural aspect of human beings, and regularly clog inboxes with emails about windfall wins via online lotteries. These emails follow an uncannily similar format where the recipient is informed that he \ she has won a huge sum in a lottery. The next step is to ask the recipient to pay "minor handling charges" in order to receive the money he \ she has supposedly won. Tempting as it may appear, this is a network fraud, regularly duping thousands of unsuspecting and naïve candidates.
A report by Kaspersky Lab Spam Analyst Maria Rubinstein attempts to reveal the truth behind some of these scams and also provide some tips to help you differentiate between a fraudulent message and a genuine notification.
Online lottery scams typically ask the recipient to send a fee ranging from a few hundred to a several thousand dollars to speed up the delivery of their supposed winnings. In a bid to keep suspicions at bay, fraudsters blame these expenses on money transfer commission, taxes, fees for opening a bank account and other such excuses. This "fee" is usually very insignificant when compared to the huge winning amount and the "lucky winner" tends to disregard the risk. Once this amount is paid, the fraudsters disappear and the conned person is left with just about no chance of finding them or recovering the money.
Here are a few simple rules to follow and signs that should ring off clear warning bells:
- If you have not bought a lottery ticket, then you obviously cannot win a prize. Any message you receive about winning a lottery is definitely fake. Such emails often contain expressions, usually in the subject line, such as "your email address was selected" or "your address has won".
- If you had indeed taken part in a lottery, then the prize has to be drawn in your name, if it is authentic. Information about the ticket number, name, and address of the lottery company also has to appear in the communication, which you can verify.
- Fraudsters do not employ writers and copyeditors (at least as of now) and the communication received from such individuals speaks volumes of this fact - the bad grammar and abundant spelling mistakes. The reason for this is also because the emails usually originate from non-English speaking countries.
- In rare instances, the messages are well-written (probably some of them have evolved to employ good writers and copyeditors), but there is something else you need to look at in such cases. Such messages are usually sent via public email servers such as gmail.com, yahoo.com, or hotmail.com rather than from a corporate address, which is expected from a reputed lottery company.
- Some messages instruct the recipient to reply to an email address different from the one that sent the original notification email. Usually, it is claimed that the other email address for future correspondence is of an "agent" or "manager".
Often, blatant disparities exist in such emails that give away their fraudulent nature. An example to quote would be a mail about the recipient winning a European lottery and requiring him\ her to contact a person residing in Nigeria. Common sense has to be applied in such cases, as to why a European lottery would have a Nigerian agent. The domain name from which the email was sent often redirects to another website not associated in any way with a lottery scheme, indicating that the website is fake. For example, an email received from firstname.lastname@example.org can easily be determined to be fake, if you try to open euroonlinelottery.com, which redirects to the World News (wn.com) portal.
It has also been seen that the names of reputed company such as Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, and Coca Cola are used. However, the truth about their involvement in any lottery scheme can easily be verified by visiting their official portals.
The authenticity of such online lottery emails can always be verified by a simple search online. You will invariably get results about people who have already fallen victims of such scams with complete information about the scammer's modus operandi.
At the end of the day, the golden rule of the thumb is to remember, is that there is no such thing as free lunch. Have you ever been affected by such an online lottery scam? Do share your experience with other readers.