Scam 'preying on senior citizens,' says man

WEST ASHLEY, S.C. (WCIV) -- A West Ashley man avoided becoming the victim of a lottery scam, and now he has a warning for any who's received a certain letter in the mail.

"First of all, a check. It's written out to me," said Richard Heins, of West Ashley, as he looked at the contents of an envelope delivered to his home. "It looks like a real check. It's from Berkshire Bank."

Inside the envelope addressed to him is an authentic-looking check for $3,875, and a letter stating he's the winner of an International Shoppers Lotto Powerball for $125,000.

The letter explains that the check covers taxes on the winnings.

"I don't remember ever entering any contests," said Heins, who thought it seemed fishy. That's why he contacted ABC News 4. "I'm a senior citizen and I'm on a fixed income. And I know about these scams and I've been alerted to them. And I figured okay this has got to be a scam. It can't be true."

There are plenty of warning signs with the letter and check, says a consumer affairs expert in Columbia.

"So the first red flag without even opening it is the fact that it's from Ontario, Canada," said Carri Grube-Lybarker, the administrator for the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs in Columbia.

Within minutes she racked up several problems with the letter and check.

"And then, that you have a different address on the check as you do on the envelope," observed Grube-Lybarker as she examined the envelope and its contents.

She says these types of contests are the second most common form of fraud in the state.

"Just by looking at it, the average person wouldn't know this is a scam," said Grube-Lybarker.

She says that if anyone tries to cash a check like this, it could cost them.

"If the consumer does receive funds before the bank is aware that the check is fraudulent, the consumer is on the hook to pay those funds back to the bank," explained Grube-Lybarker.

She says international lotteries like these target senior citizens and many of them can trick their intended targets.

"But if you didn't enter a sweepstakes or lottery, you can't win it. And if they're saying you won a foreign lottery or a foreign sweepstakes, it's illegal to play those," she said.

That's why Grube-Lybarker suggests anyone who's received a letter like this to contact her office so her team can investigate.

That's a welcome idea for Richard Heins who avoided becoming a victim of the scam.

"I hope this helps other people who are in need of money and they get these letters and they don't get scammed themselves," said Heins.

ABC News 4 tried to contact the Massachusetts company that was listed on the check Heins received, but no one returned the calls or emails.

The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs says a legitimate sweepstakes or lottery won't ask for money up front so you can collect winnings.

If you're received a similar letter, report it to state officials. Go to Advocates with the Department of Consumer Affairs say they'll investigate it, and report the case to US Postal Inspectors.