Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General
Division of Consumer Affairs
Reni Erdos, Director
For Immediate Release:
March 23, 2004
For Further Information Contact:
Jeff Lamm, Genene Morris
NEWARK - Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and Consumer Affairs
Director Reni Erdos are warning New Jersey residents about the return
of a scam that last year defrauded U.S. citizens of more than $100
million. Con artists are circulating false notices informing
recipients that they have won a prize in the El Gordo lottery in Spain
and have until March 25 to claim it.
The prize amounts in these notices are often quite large, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or Euros. The notices state that the prize amount is deposited with a security company and that the recipient must contact an agent in Spain by March 25th to claim the prize. The notices are on letterhead bearing the forged words and seal of the El Gordo Spanish Sweepstakes Lottery, which is a legitimate drawing held in Spain around Christmas each year. An overseas telephone number is listed on the notices along with an address in Barcelona, Spain.
When a resident calls and attempts to make arrangements to collect, he or she is typically told that a transfer fee amounting to several thousand dollars must be paid to get the prize money deposited in a United States bank. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that U.S. citizens each year are conned out of $120 million by the El Gordo scam and other foreign lottery scams.
“El Gordo means ‘the fat one’ but the only ones fattening their wallets in this scam are the criminals behind it,” said Attorney General Harvey. “If consumers want a sure bet, I’d advise them to tear up the notice when they receive it.”
“Consumers should be extremely leery of any solicitation that requires them to pay a fee to claim a prize,” said Director Erdos. “In this case, an illusory prize of hundreds of thousands of dollars has tempted victims to part with thousands of dollars of their hard-earned money.”
Notice recipients often are asked to provide personal information such as their bank account numbers and date of birth. First Assistant Attorney General Edward M. Neafsey cautioned that such information should never be given out to unknown persons. Requests for personal data are also warning signs of a potential scam. Neafsey noted that it is illegal for U.S. citizens to play a foreign lottery by mail or telephone.