No, You Didn't Win the Jamaica Mega Millions Lottery

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Jamaica US Lottery Scams
Elaine Thompson/APAnother version of the Jamaica lottery scam is by mail. Con artists are stealing an estimated $1 billion a year, largely from elderly Americans, the federal government estimates.
The phone rings, and your caller ID shows an 876 area code. Unless you're expecting a call from Jamaica, you probably shouldn't answer. It's likely going to be a scam.

The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday warned consumers that the foreign lottery scam has once again reared its head. Foreign lottery scams are like other scams involving promises of a free trip or other prizes. They just make it seem like you've won a lot more.

The scam comes when you're asked to pay in advance for the taxes and fees so you can receive your huge prize from the nonexistent "Mega Millions" lottery in Jamaica. This time, according to the FTC, victims are being asked to make their payments using prepaid cards.

It has long been tradition in scams to make payment via money transfer services like MoneyGram and Western Union (WU) but sending money using a prepaid cards is the flavor of the month among criminals. Why? The money can't be traced, and once it's transferred, it's gone.

Many Reasons to Be Suspicious

Cracking down on the scams has been serious business of late in Jamaica. The Jamaica Constabulatory Authority's Lottery Scam Task Force won its first convictions earlier this year. It arrested 41 people last week and another 10 suspects a few weeks earlier. But the calls keep coming, costing some victims tens of thousands of dollars.

Here are some warnings to keep in mind:

  • Playing a foreign lottery is against the law in the U.S. Plus, you don't get calls from lotteries telling you that won. And you certainly won't hear from a lottery that you never entered.
  • 876 isn't the only sketchy area code. The Better Business Bureau notes that 809, 284 and 649 calls also have been attached to a variety of scams. All are area codes from Caribbean islands. They're among the few area codes outside the U.S. that allow calls to be placed directly, without the use of a country code.
  • Beware of spoofing. Just because a call comes from an area code that isn't tied to the Caribbean doesn't mean it's legit. Today's technology allows crooks to pose as just about anyone they care to, making your caller ID show whatever number they want. Never pay in advance to collect something you supposedly have won.
The FTC notes that some consumers who have gotten these scam calls have been threatened by the callers if they don't pay up (another tactic not common to legitimate lotteries). The agency suggests hanging up the phone as soon as you realize something's amiss.

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