Courts & Crime

Bettors beware: Lottery scams dupes thousands

COLUMBIA, S.C. _ Dick Long fought in the Philippines under Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Lillie Long taught first-graders for nearly three decades.

Now, every time they go to the mailbox and just about every time they pick up the phone, they're being scammed.

The Longs are lured by promises that seem so convincing and so easy to reach: Just send a few dollars, and you'll win millions in foreign lotteries and sweepstakes.

Hopeful, they send the money.

They've never received a dime.

They never will.

The couple, both well into their 80s, think they've mailed and wired money to win big prizes for more than two years.

Their six-figure banking account _ large enough that tellers would remind Lillie that she had too much to be insured _ has dwindled to $7,358.

The Longs are among roughly 40,000 people nationwide tricked each year by lottery crooks. The actual number is likely much higher, consumer advocates say, because so many cases go unreported.

Scams baited with foreign lottery and sweepstake winnings are decades old. But after years of declines, the number of complaints to law enforcement agencies nationwide is rising at an alarming rate. In South Carolina, the number more than doubled last year, according to federal data.

Some experts cite the economy for the boom in sweepstakes scams, saying people are easier to sway when money is tight. Others note that scams tend to come in waves _ and it's the lottery's turn to be used as one.

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