- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

The Immigration and Naturalization Service and the State Department are investigating an e-mail scam in which victims are being told that they have won a U.S. immigration lottery and should send a $25 "processing fee" to a local post office box to receive their green card.
The e-mail, titled "USA Immigration Program," seems a credible U.S. Immigration Services message but has a Hotmail return address. Hotmail is a free Internet e-mail service operated by Microsoft Corp.
"You are now eligible to live and work in USA," declares the message, which asks the recipient to send a passport photo, personal information and a $25 fee to a post office box in MacLean, Va.
"This e-mail is a fraud," said INS spokesman Russ Bergeron. "Individuals would not be notified by e-mail."
Mr. Bergeron said the State Department's National Visa Center does hold an annual immigration lottery but that no fee is charged to the winners. He said legitimate lottery winners would be contacted by the department.
He said federal investigators were aware of the post office box number in the fraudulent e-mail and that the matter was "under inquiry" but added that he could not discuss the particulars of the probe.
A total of 55,000 visas are issued each year under the legitimate immigration lottery, with no more than 7 percent going to applicants from any one participating country.
An alien must first be admitted to the United States as an immigrant before he or she can be considered for permanent residency status, according to the State Department Web site.
Mr. Bergeron said he was confident that the perpetrator of the scam will be found and brought to justice.
When asked how many people might have been taken in, he said, "I don't think there's any way of knowing at this point in time."

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