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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Lottery scam tricks Britons
Britons fall victim to lottery scam
500 people have complained in the UK
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By Philippa Busby
BBC Radio Five Live

Hundreds of people in the UK have been conned out of thousands of pounds after falling victim to a telephone fraud based in Canada, an investigation by BBC Radio Five Live has found.

The Canadian fraudsters telephone British residents telling them they have been entered into the Canadian National Lottery for free.

People have been arrested two, three, four times and while they're in jail for a short period, they're still running their operation

Barry Elliott
Canadian police

A few weeks later they call back to tell the person they have won a huge prize, often in the region of 175,000.

They then demand several thousand pounds to pay for the tax on the winnings.

In some cases victims have lost more than 40,000.

The cash is sent but the prize does not exist.

Charm offensive

The Office of Fair Trading and the Canadian police are investigating almost 500 complaints from British residents who have been affected by the scam.

I was angry that I had been caught because I thought no way would anybody get any money out of me


This year alone more than 100,000 has been stolen from people this way but detectives believe that sum could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Those perpetrating the con use charm and familiarity to gain their victims trust.

They may call back several different times with new reasons why more money needs to be sent.

Sometimes they even pretend to be the police trying to track down the fraudsters.

'Sucker list'

Those targeted are often chosen because they have fallen victim to past deceptions or because they entered postal competitions.

Their names are circulated among criminal gangs on what are known as "sucker lists".

Those who are conned are often too embarrassed to report the crime.

One man from Warminster who lost 4,500 on the scam told the BBC: "I feel very stupid for doing it.

"They're working on the vulnerability of the person they're phoning and the excitement they generate in the fact that you've won a specific figure of money.

"They're very confident and very reassuring".

A woman from Cambridge who lost 700 said she had hoped to be able to pay off all her family's bills and buy a new car.

But she it all turned out to be pipe dreams.

"I was angry that I had been caught because I thought no way would anybody get any money out of me and I didn't really have 700 to spare."

UK targeted

The Canadian police has set up a department dedicated to tackling phone fraud.

It estimates each day there are between 300 and 500 criminal operations working countrywide.

Telephonists work around the clock in so-called "boiler rooms" making call after call across the world.

The scam has already hit thousands of Canadian and American residents.

Detectives now believe the UK is the new target.

Detective Staff Sergeant Barry Elliott, who heads the Canadian investigation, says that they can arrest individuals but they cannot stop the fraud.

"The problem is keeping them in jail for any length of time, and there's millions of dollars to be made.

"We've had a number of cases where people have been arrested two, three, four times and while they're in jail for a short period, they're still running their operation".

Victim appeal

The Office of Fair Trading is appealing for other victims to contact them.

Mike Hayley, who heads the international investigation team, said: "Currently we have about 19 different Canadian companies or individuals involved in this deceptive telemarketing under investigation, but it's just the tip of the iceberg.

"We'd ask for any victims, or those who've had calls to contact us so that we can get a good idea of the scale of the problem".

A spokesman for the Canadian High Commission said that no such thing as the Canadian National Lottery existed.

His advice for anyone considering responding to the telephone calls was clear.

"Wise up and hang up," he said.

Complaints can be directed to the European Enforcement team at Fleetbank House, 2-6 Salisbury Square, London, EC4Y 8JX or e-mail

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