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Spanish Lottery

 

This scam dates back over 200 years. It adapts to the times. The digital version is so obviously a con that it serves as a kind of tragic monument to hope, or is that desperation. How is that even possible? The basic idea is that there’s a lottery ticket out there with your name on it. You only need to pay a local tax, a transfer fee, legal fees, or buy it off some poor old Count stuck in a Spanish prison, and you’ll be as rich as rich can be because all that money will come to you. Sometimes these solicitations come in letter form – with all the right logos and branding, much to the fury of the genuine Spanish lottery. In fact, Spanish National Police have recently reported making 300 arrests, and seizing nearly 2,000 cell phones, trucks of office equipment, piles of faked documents and over $265,000 in cash; all of which they obtained by conducting 150 searches.

The current online version is that you’ve won the lottery. Without ever having bought a ticket. For every million spam emails they send, they may only get a few hits – but those hits pay. They pay because the initial amount requested is affordable. They pay because the victims are encouraged to phone premium-rate phone numbers to ‘confirm’ their prize. And they pay because, like most internet cons, the victim’s identity and bank details are harvested and sold on.

When done by real people this scam can be devastatingly effective. One retired man was so convinced by the conman who hooked him that he continued to send money even after police started to look into the matter. Eventually they had to get a court order that put a freeze on his bank account to stop him from losing what little remained to him, having already lost over $300,000. This is an example of an ironic psychological trap that scammers exploit: people will literally throw good money after bad because they can’t bear to have been scammed.

The original version of the con had two or more players, and preyed on the vulnerable: immigrants – often chosen because they are part of the same ethnic minority as the con artists, so establishing a false trust. The first con asks the victim for help: they need to find a lawyer. The second scammer arrives on the scene claiming that the lawyer has a reputation for ripping people off. The first then confides in the victim that he or she has a winning lottery ticket, but cannot claim the ticket themselves. The reason for this will be selected according to the mark’s situation. For example, a victim who is recently divorced might be told that the ticket holder is on the run from alimony payments. The other scammer will offer to cash the ticket him or herself. The fake ticket holder pretends to accept this offer, but at the last minute decides that the mark is a more trustworthy person, and asks them if they would like to cash the ticket. The second con acts offended and suggests that the mark might steal the lottery money. The ticket is then ‘sold’ to the mark for as much as the scammer can squeeze out of them, or the victim puts a ‘deposit’ on a share of the money.

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