I won the lottery this week despite the fact that I didn’t buy a ticket. I found out that I won after the directors of the lottery reached out to me directly via email to claim my prize. They just need some of my personal information and they’ll get to processing my winnings right away.
I don’t mean to brag but I win large sums of money fairly often. Just this week alone, I won £950,000 from Microsoft Corporation just for being an “active user” and £500,000 from an E-mail Electronic Online Sweepstakes Organized by Google. Occasionally, my funds are held up – such as my recent inheritance from Nigeria – but after “The Cyber Crime Division of the FBI gathered information from the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) formerly known as the Internet Fraud Complaint Center (IFCC) of how some people have lost outrageous sums of money to these impostors” sorted it all out, I’ve been advised that my $2 million is on the way. I’ve also been promised $1.5 million by the World Bank by Mr. Douglas Smith – or Doglas, as it seems he can’t quite keep the spelling of his name straight – just as soon as they work out the details.
I get these sort of emails all of the time. I’m also not alone.
According to Securelist (a Kaspersky Lab site), in the first quarter of 2015, spam constituted as much as 59.2% of all email. Spam emails may contain malicious files, or malware, or may be phishing attacks. Phishing attacks are scams meant to lure folks to provide personal and financial information.
In some cases, like many of the lottery and inheritance scams, scammers hope that email recipients will send personal information that can be used for identity theft and other fraud-related purposes. Almost all of the emails sent to me for lottery and other winnings asked that I provide personal details. For my most recent win, I was advised to contact the “Microsoft Program Administrator/Coordinator” with a number of details in order to collect my prize. That information included:
(1) Your Contact Address/Private Email Address:
(2) Your Tel/Fax Numbers:
(3) Your Nationality/Country:
(4) Your Full Name:
And just for fun, I was asked to comment:
(7) Ever Won An Online Lottery?
(8) Comments about Microsoft:
I was also asked to keep my winnings secret (drat, now I’ve blown it!) since so many unsavory characters – including, according to the email, family members – are waiting to claim my prize for their own.
The numbers of people who reply to these kinds of emails are high enough to keep the scammers busy – and encouraged. With the change of a company name – say, from Microsoft to Apple – together with bogus company letterhead and a pasted on signature (Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft Corporation, himself guaranteed my latest winnings), the scam is new and “fresh” enough to keep some guessing. And while the details may change, the basic concept remains more or less the same.
One such twist is proving to be lucrative for scammers: demanding money for the payment of taxes upfront. Here’s how it works. A potential victim (ahem, I mean lucky winner) is notified by email that he or she has won a sum of money. However, in order to collect the winnings, the potential victim must pony up a sum of money in advance to settle fees. Depending on the nature of the “win,” those fees could include “taxes, customer paper and clearance duty.” More often than not, the amount of taxes payable in advance are disproportionately small since “everything else has been taken cared of by the Federal Government [sic].” For example, in order to collect my $2 million prize from the Central Bank of Nigeria, I need only pay $397.
When scammers don’t get what they want by email, they may resort to a trick that has made the rounds of late: calling and pretending to be the tax authorities. The fraudsters need only a bite or two in order to collect thousands of dollars. This summer, for example, an Indiana woman paid out more than $7,000 in money orders to settle what she was advised over the phone would be $6,500 in taxes. That amount was needed, she was told, before she could claim a $9.2 million jackpot from Mega Millions. She paid up but eventually contacted law enforcement when it became clear that she wouldn’t receive her millions in return.
In another case just this fall, an Ohio woman was told that she had won a sum of money but she would not collect until she paid out $200 in handling fees. She sent the money. After that, she was told that she had to pay an additional $800 to cover taxes from IRS before she would receive her winnings. She never collected.
In some instances, a victim who has allegedly won the lottery or other sum of money may receive a letter together with a “good faith” check to help cover an amount of taxes and fees due. The victim is supposed to issue a check (or money order) from his or her own bank account to cover additional taxes and fees before a bigger check can be issued. The first check is – you guessed it – bogus and will eventually bounce in the victim’s account but not before the victim’s own check or money order clears. There is, as you probably also guessed, never a second check.
These kinds of scams are becoming more routine and more aggressive. They tend to target the elderly. They also become more predatory when victims offer signs that they might be willing to comply with demands, such as offering personal information or paying a small amount up front (this is why it’s so important not to reply to these scams in the first place).
Remember that the IRS will not contact you to demand immediate payment for taxes, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill. Additionally, neither the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) nor any other taxing authority will know before you do that you’ve won a legitimate lottery as winners are typically anonymous until the prize is claimed. And while is is true that lottery winnings may be subject to withholdings when paid out, taxes are not collected in advance.
If you receive a phone call allegedly from IRS demanding that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe or if they require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card or if they ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, hang up. You can always call IRS directly at 1.800.829.1040 if you believe that you may actually have a legitimate tax obligation. You can also record the employee’s name, badge number, call back number and caller ID (if available) and call 1.800.366.4484 to determine whether the caller was a legitimate IRS employee.
If you receive an email demanding payment of tax in order to collect a tax, it’s likely a phishing scheme. In that case:
- Don’t reply.
- Don’t open any attachments. They can contain malicious code that may infect your computer or mobile phone.
- Don’t click on any links.
- Forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Delete the original email.