Identifying Scams Online

Savannah resident Dawn Laxton thought it was too good to be true when she got an email from a foreign lottery. "One part of me wanted to think that it was real, because it literally read that I had won," she said.

Of course it wasn't true. It was just the first step in an intricate scam. And it's not just email. One viewer sent us this official-looking letter, which claims to be from a Spanish lottery company. It even uses a name similar to that of a real lottery, which has paid out to foreigners.

Rather than asking for sensitive information, this confidence game embroils targets in tantalizing correspondence. "The subject line was 'congratulations,'" Laxton said. She replied and got a second note asking her for more information. "Of course at the bottom it reads, 'We hope your winnings will be used for the betterment of mankind and will change the lives of many people.' That was like this really encouraging message to me to thinking, at this point I really started thinking...maybe."

It was the third note she received which asked her for a $1,750 processing fee up front."They're obviously representing something good to steal from people, and getting your hopes up or misleading people in a terrible way by the power of words."

One of the reasons these letters can seem credible is that they just send them to a few people, not everybody. But a lot of them can be found online. Here are some tips for researching this kind of scam:

*Use an online search engine (such as Google or Yahoo ) for an exact search for the company name. That usually means putting quote marks around the entire name.

*Don't keep it confidential, as the letters usually ask you to. Find out what people you trust think.

*Follow the links to the upper left for sites that discuss specific scams.

While it's likely there will always be fraud--as Laxon told us, "It hurt to think that there are scavengers out there that prey on innocent people that really would not know any better"--a little research can help keep you from becoming a victim.

Reported by: Charles Gray,