Of course with the availability of botnets -- which command legions of spam spewing zombies (compromised computers)-- even if only a few people fall for the scheme, the scammers still make a tidy sum off of other people's misfortunes.
An example of this can be found on the Newport Beach Police website, where an elderly gentlemen lost a lot of money (probably his life savings) to one of these schemes:
Recently, an 80 year old resident of the city learned he was a victim of an international lottery scam. He originally received an email claiming he had won an overseas lottery which required him to pay a processing fee to have the funds released. This scam continued for a two year period and ended with the victim losing over $700,000.00.This type of scam is often referred to as an Advance Fee (419) scam.
Scam operators (often based in Canada) are using email, telephone and direct mail to entice U.S. consumers to buy chances in high-stakes foreign lotteries from as far away as Australia and Europe. These lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail.
Of course, the lottery scam isn't the only one out there. There are work-at-home (job) scams, secret shopper, romance, lottery and auction scams being sent out in millions (billions ?) of e-mails, also. And if you don't have your own financial resources, the scammers will gladly provide you with a wide array of counterfeit financial instruments to negotiate. They could care less if you get arrested and expect that you will wire them any proceeds if you successfully pass the bogus instrument.
Please note, that just because you initially are able to pass the instrument doesn't mean that someone won't come after you, later.
The news release from Newport Beach Police Department offers the following advice on how to report scams like this:
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
They also point to a page on the FTC website about cross border scams, which can be seen here.
If you are a more "visual type," I recommend going to fakechecks.org, which has a series of video presentations on this subject.