HOUSTON (WITI) — It starts with a letter and a promise of big money. It usually ends with a life's savings gone and lives in ruin.
"They fool you. They say we are in the process of getting it to you, but you don't get anything," revealed a lottery scam victim who didn't want to reveal her identity.
The victim's nightmare began with a letter telling her she was "guaranteed" to win $2.5 million in a lottery sweepstakes. All she had to do was pay a processing fee and taxes.
"She was under the impression that once you started to send money, she would start receiving her awarded money. Little did she know, she kept sending money, more money and eventually she was never receiving anything," said U.S. Postal Inspector Eric Casarez.
In all, the victim lost $200,000.
"She lost her entire life savings. She is living on her own. She has no one to go to. At this point, she is now struggling to pay her bills and figuring out what to do next," Casarez explained.
Senior citizens are often the target of lottery sweepstakes scams. The reason? They are vulnerable.
"Targeting a victim they know who lives alone — who has no one to go to to question these type of solicitations that come in the mail," Casarez said.
Any family with an elderly relative living alone should keep that in mind.
"Once they gain your trust and they see that you are following their instructions, almost a daily basis, that you are sending money to them they start talking to you and they ask you more personal questions," Casarez said.
In this case, the scam artists convinced the victim to cash in an IRA that they only learned about by questioning her on the phone.
"They need to stop answering the phone. Never give your personal identifying information to anyone you don't trust," advised Casarez.
Remember, no legitimate lottery will ask you for money upfront.