SAN DIEGO (CNS) - District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis warned the public Tuesday about a lottery scam that uses the official San Diego County seal and appears to be targeting veterans and senior citizens.

The District Attorney's Office is investigating the scam and is asking victims to come forward.

"These scammers are using the legitimacy of a government seal to prey on vulnerable seniors who served their country," Dumanis said. "It can be embarrassing for people to come forward once they realize they've been duped, but we want to help victims and hold these heartless scam artists responsible for their crimes."

Investigators said a retired San Diego couple, ages 83 and 79, received several phone calls telling them they had won as much as $2.5 million in a lottery, but needed to send insurance money and state and federal taxes before the winnings could be deposited in their bank account.

As proof of the lottery "win," the couple received a faxed letter that included the official seal of the county of San Diego, as well as a photocopy of a $2.5 million check made out to them. The letter thanked the victims for their service and said the lottery winnings would be deposited in their Navy Federal Credit Union account once the taxes were paid.

As a result, the couple sent money-grams and made bank transfers totaling more than $20,000 to various people, believing the money was required to receive the lottery winnings.

Eventually, they provided their credit union account information and a Social Security number in order to allow the winnings to be transferred to their account. Instead, the criminals cleaned out the couple's savings account, stealing an additional $3,000.

"False lotteries are a common scam," said Deputy District Attorney Paul Greenwood, who prosecutes elder abuse cases. "There's nothing for free."

To keep finances safe from scams, the District Attorney's Office offered the following tips:

-- sweepstakes and overseas lotteries are phony;

-- screen calls before answering;

-- don't be afraid to hang up on the perpetrator, and;

-- always check with a professional adviser.

When people have been scammed once, their phone numbers and information are sold to other scam artists, investigators said.

People should consider changing their phone number to avoid an onslaught of predatory calls.

Additional victims of the lottery scam or other suspected financial elder abuse are urged to call (619) 531-3245 to make a report. Individuals are asked to call only if they have sent money to one of the scams and have not already reported it to law enforcement.