On the trail of the lottery scammers

Erin Howard, of Dunedin, holds granddaughter Anika Boereboom (2) and the Malaysian lottery scratch tickets sent in the mail. Photos by Peter McIntosh.
Erin Howard, of Dunedin, holds granddaughter Anika Boereboom (2) and the Malaysian lottery scratch tickets sent in the mail. Photos by Peter McIntosh.

Don't hate me now I'm rich. Shawn McAvinue chases cash to Kuala Lumpur.

When Dunedin grandmother Erin Howard received a letter from a Malaysian travel company, she smelled a rat.

The letter, from Clear Horizon Travels, said the company was celebrating its 10th anniversary and included two lottery scratch tickets offering prizes of up to $300,000.

Ms Howard scratched the first ticket. It was a loser. But the next promised a second prize worth more than $200,000.

With unstinting regularity, hundreds of such envelopes - invariably from scammers - have been delivered to Dunedin letterboxes in recent weeks.

But when Ms Howard brought her letter to the Otago Daily Times, I promised to chase her winnings.

I dialled the phone number on the winning ticket and was connected to a receptionist in Kuala Lumpur, who transferred me to Kevin Lee in the claims department.

He took the ticket details and my phone number and called back in minutes, verifying a winning cheque would be sent after the company received confirmation of Ms Howard's age, occupation and address.

So far, so good, but just to be sure, I asked Mr Lee if he was part of an elaborate scam.

''That's not what I'm aware of,'' he said.

''You will be receiving a $175,000 cheque.''

Mr Lee said the company had been operating for many years but he declined further requests to talk with management.

Calling Kuala Lumpur again the next day, I was transferred to Alex Wong in the claims department.

I told Mr Wong, I would be in Kuala Lumpur for the weekend to collect the winnings.

''Sure, OK. Yes,'' Mr Wong said, giving me an address in northern Kuala Lumpur.

''Do I need to bring anything?'' I asked.

''No. Just the winning ticket,'' Mr Wong said.

Mr Wong declined my request to be transferred to management to thank them for the generous prize.

''Oh no. Our president is gone.''

When asked if it was a scam, he became offended.

''Of course we are legit. You rung us.''

He said he feared I was a prank caller, told me to email Ms Howard's contact details and hung up.

On the ticket, a condition required winners to submit taxes, or any other mandatory charges, as a result of the award.

The website Scam Detector said Malaysian travel brochures began arriving at Australian homes a few years ago, and the distribution then widened to other countries, including New Zealand.

When ''winners'' claimed a prize they were told to pay a tax before the proceeds could be released.

The travel company would pay half the cost. The recipient needed to send the other half by wire transfer, which the company kept.

Unsurprisingly, the prize would never arrive.

Ms Howard said she was concerned about the sophistication of the scam and wanted to warn others.

shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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