Foreign Lottery Scam

money in hands
From all the over the world, envelopes pour into Geneva Hovis's Missouri mailbox -- from Australia to Germany.

And they all come with guarantees of big lottery winnings.

"Oh my goodness a billion dollars is quite a bit of money, that's no loose change," says Hovis.

As CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports, the promises are all the same.

"Down there at the bottom it says you win and you get it all," Hovis says.

But to receive your money, you have to send them money first, to buy tickets, or for so-called handling fees. And straight from Hovis' bank account were withdrawals of $79, $80, $29 -- they kept taking money.

Geneva sent in thousands of dollars, but she never got anything back.

It sounded real to her, but now she knows, "It's nothing but a bunch of crap! Malarky!"

Terry Finley is a U.S postal inspector whose full-time job is going after foreign lottery offers.

According to him, "Once they have your name you know you're toast."

He says lottery scammers trade mailing lists, so people like Geneva Hovis get hit over and over again.

"I've never heard of anyone getting winnings from the foreign lotteries. It just doesn't happen," Finley tells Brzezinski.

In fact, it's illegal for any foreign lottery -- legitimate or not -- to use the U.S. mail to solicit customers. This year alone the post office has gone to court to shut down 39 different lottery schemes, then destroyed 800,000 of the phony offers that were headed into this country.

The scammers also seem to put no boundary on who they will target.

60 Minutes Correspondent Andy Rooney received a "reward notice" which was "pleased to inform" him that he won $615,000. He rang up the scammers and found out how persuasive and demanding they can be.

"I seem to have won a big amount of money is this really true?" Rooney asked the scammers.

He was told to send them ten percent of his winnings, $61,000 up front.

"Now I see you want my bank account number. Do I really have to give you that?" he continued.

After humoring his scammer, Rooney hung up -- something Geneva Hovis wishes she had done long ago.

Hovis vows she will not be joining any more lotteries and, "That's 100 percent the truth."

Meanwhile, the postal service advises consumers not to throw these letters away. They are following the paper trail and say if you get one, give it right back to your mailman.