Home News Stories 2005 August A Cautionary Tale - Spanish Lottery Scam
This is archived material from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website. It may contain outdated information and links may no longer function.

A Cautionary Tale - Spanish Lottery Scam

A Cautionary Tale
Advertencia: Esto Es Un Scam


Spanish National Police logo

Congratulations! You’ve won the Spanish National Lottery! To claim your prize, just send us cash to pay the taxes in advance.

Sound familiar? It’s a classic Nigerian letter scam —originating in Spain—that bilks thousands of people around the world out of an estimated $24 million a year and opens the door to future identity theft. About half of the victims are from the U.S.

How does the scam work? The names and addresses of targets—all outside Spain—are collected through the Internet. Then you, the target, get a letter from the Spanish National Lottery claiming you’ve won about $730,000 in a special promotional lottery. An estimated six million letters are sent a year. The letters look legitimate, complete with official logos and contact information. They also include a form from the bank where the money is supposedly being held. You might even receive follow-up faxes and phone calls.

Then the hook: all you have to do is pay Spanish taxes—between 0.5 percent and 2 percent of the winnings—to get the money. Just fax your completed claim forms with personal and banking information and wire the money within a couple of days. If you take the bait, chances are you’ll be asked to cover other expenses, too.

Our colleagues, the Spanish National Police (SNP) have relentlessly pursued the criminals in their country who are behind these schemes. In July, they launched a massive crackdown that resulted in 300 arrests, 150 searches, and the seizures of nearly 2,000 cell phones, hundreds of computers and fax machines, plenty of fake documents, and $265,000 in cash.

We were delighted to be a part of their investigation, working through our Madrid legal attache office and with our partners in the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Our task was to identify and interview possible U.S. victims by calling some 800 U.S. phone numbers from lists provided by the SNP.

This is truly a 21st century concept of policing: working internationally to protect you in your community.

Want to keep from getting scammed by these and similar frauds? Here’s our advice:

  • NEVER give personal information over the telephone, mail, or Internet unless you initiated the contact.
  • Do NOT wire money to strangers.
  • NEVER send money to collect a prize if a fee is required.
  • If you think you’re being targeted, contact us or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
For more advice on protecting yourself from fraud, check out our Be Crime Smart webpage.

Resources: More White-Collar Crime stories