ODESSA, TX (KWES) - An international lottery scam that first appeared in RipoffReport.com complaints in 2012 has made its way to West Texas.
Odessa resident Louise Stephenson said she received a letter this week from Shaw Financial Inc., naming her the winner of a $300,000 sweepstakes prize. The envelope, postmarked in South Africa and mailed without a return address, also included a check for $3,950.
"[This is] provided to help you pay for the processing fee [of] $3,650," the letter states.
According to the instructions, the prize check will be delivered in person by a "special courier company" after this initial payment is cleared.
"They want you to deposit the bad check and pay the processing fee with your own money before realizing it's all a scam," explained Stephenson. "And you think, 'Why not?' at first. You think you'd make $300 just by cashing the check."
The letter lists office locations for Shaw in Los Angeles, Cape Town, Dublin and London. Representatives could not be reached for comment at the phone numbers provided.
Multiple RipoffReport.com complaints posted by users nationwide detail similar letters from Shaw. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued a statement in May warning residents about the scam.
"When people hear that they won the lottery, they sometimes allow their initial excitement to override warning signs they may typically notice," he said in the statement, still posted on ago.wv.gov. "We want to help protect people from losing their hard earned money to a scam."
North Reading Police in Massachusetts also said they had received multiple calls about the Shaw lottery scam on Thursday, according to a Patch report.
A copy of the letter received by North Reading residents is posted on the police department's website, nrpd.org.
"It just looks so real," Stephenson said of the check for the purported processing fee. "I've worked in a bank and it looks like a real check."
Her friend, Loretta Osborne, ultimately convinced her not to cash the check and attempt to collect the prize money.
"I looked up the company, called the bank and figured out what was going on," Osborne told NewsWest 9. "But I can see how someone could easily fall for it. If you need that [$300,000 of prize] money, you want to believe [the letter] is real. You want to believe you won some sort of sweepstakes, even if you don't remember entering one."
However, not every recipient of the fraudulent letter has thought to research Shaw before acting. A Midland man said he didn't realize it was a scam until after he had submitted the "processing fee" multiple times.
"All in all, in cost me $25,000," he said. "I'm not getting a penny of that back."
He requested to remain anonymous, but advised others to comb through "every piece of mail" and contact authorities with any suspicions.
Stephenson shared the same advice.
"If it's too good to be real, it's probably not real," she added.