More lottery scams reported this year

73 cases reported in first three months of this year

When 64-year-old Madam Leela found a flier at her door last September, she called the number - not realising it would cost her $200,000 and see her become one of a rising number of people duped by a lottery scam.

The flier was advertising a "religious master" who claimed he could change fortunes, and Madam Leela believed she needed help.

A decade ago, she was retrenched from her factory job of 36 years. Her husband died of a heart attack that same year. She had to sell off her five-room HDB flat to settle debts, and from then on lived in rented units.

The "religious master" who answered her phone call told her that her date of birth was responsible for her ill luck. "He said he would do prayers for me," said Madam Leela, who has no children.

The man called back a few days later to say she had won a $1.2 million lottery in Malaysia. "I was so happy, I thought I could buy a new house," she said. But the man told her she had to pay some taxes and administrative fees first.

Over the next three months, she transferred amounts of between $20,000 and $40,000 through a remittance agency and a bank to someone she had never met. Besides using her savings, she also pawned some jewellery.

She realised she had been scammed only after the man stopped contacting her last December. She lost a total of $242,800. Madam Leela was advised by relatives to lodge a police report last week.

Such cases have been on the rise, according to police. From January to March, 73 reports of lottery scams were lodged, marking a 70 per cent increase over the same period last year. There were 304 reports for the whole of last year compared to 213 in 2013 - a 40 per cent jump. A total of $3.4 million was involved last year, and $3.3 million in 2013.

The police advise the public to be more alert to these scams, which typically involve a victim being told he has won a prize in a foreign lottery. The victim, who is contacted by phone or e-mail, is then persuaded to pay "tax" or "administration" fees first. One case reported in January involved the loss of $3 million - the highest ever for a lottery scam. It involved transfers over a period of time from 2011 to last year.

Police warn the public not to make any advance payment to claim any prize money, and to ignore messages claiming they have won a prize when they have not participated in any draw.

The public should call the police on 999 to report such scams.

amirh@sph.com.sg