Lottery scam promises riches, delivers deception

Cougar man was told he won $125,000 — if he paid $6,700 first

By Bob Albrecht, Columbian Staff Reporter

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The Washington Attorney General’s Office warns that popular scams purporting payouts of unclaimed prizes from Publisher’s Clearinghouse and other lottery organizations typically start with an oversized envelope.

The envelope contains a check and a phone number promised to be answered by a claims representative who will tell the big “winner” what to do next.

That gibes with the experience 70-year-old Ronald Katzer of Cougar has been having. He was told to deposit a check for about $3,800 and then wire $2,900 to an agent who would help process his winnings.

The transfer would cover “government taxes and services,” Katzer was told, clearing the way for the payment of the $125,000 he had allegedly won.

“That check looks authentic,” said Katzer, who never sent in the money that was requested. “It’s got watermarks on it and everything.”

A message from the office of Attorney General Rob McKenna: Anybody asking you to wire money in order to claim your prize is a thief.

“The check bounces and then your money is gone,” said Kristin Alexander, a spokeswoman for the attorney general. “If you wire money, you will not become rich; you will become poorer.”

Scams like the one that found its way into Katzer’s mailbox are “extremely common,” Alexander said.

He is reflective of seniors who “are often prime targets for dishonest firms, which deliberately prey on the goodness, loneliness, greed, or gullibility of people who have reached their golden years,” according to the attorney general’s website.

Katzer went so far as to take the check he received to the US Bank branch in Yacolt, where he showed it to a banker whom he said told him, “I won’t deposit it for you because I know it’s a scam.”

He said he found the envelope in his mail when he returned from vacation on Sept. 18. As recently as last Wednesday, he got a call from a woman in Tennessee he believes was associated with the scam.

“Finally, I told her, ‘You’re as phony as a $3 bill,’” Katzer said.