Milwaukee, Wisc., Feb. 21, 2013 – With seniors in Missouri and Illinois falling victim to Jamaican lottery thieves at an alarming rate, the Consumer Fraud Task Force urges bi-state residents to be alert for signs that friends or family members have been trapped by the notorious schemes.
Victims can become so embarrassed or frightened by the scams that they may be hesitant to share information even with their closest relatives. Because of that, the Task Force advises area residents to watch for subtle signs that a loved one may be involved.
Tip-offs may include references to a lottery or sweepstakes, unusual or increased phone activity (especially incoming calls from outside the United States), questions or talk about unusual cash transfers, or sudden, unexplained bouts of paranoia or secrecy.
Many victims have been described as lonely, easily manipulated or extremely trusting of strangers, but not necessarily mentally compromised. Law enforcement officials say the thieves can be extremely cunning and convincing.
Task Force member C. Steven Baker, Midwest Region director for the Federal Trade Commission, said that lottery and sweepstakes scammers from Jamaica and elsewhere may be stealing more than $1 billion a year from Americans.
The Task Force is aware of several recent lottery or sweepstakes fraud cases that have bilked seniors and others of amounts ranging from $40,000 to as much as $5 million.
Some of the worst recent cases include:
- A Jefferson County, Mo., custodian who lost $41,000 last year in a lottery/sweepstakes scam. He said he was ashamed to tell his family about the theft.
- An 88-year-old woman from west St. Louis County who lost $50,000 to $60,000 in a Jamaican lottery scam starting last October.
- A man from Lake St. Louis, who said that a group of anonymous thieves have stolen at least $457,000 from his father, a 72-year-old retired farmer from Indiana.
- A man from Ladue who may have lost between $3 million and $5 million in a foreign lottery scam. The victim, 82, has become so traumatized by the ongoing thefts that he has been unwilling to cooperate with authorities investigating the case.
The Lake St. Louis man said he first became aware of the extent of the scam involving his father when Indiana state police contacted him. Police told him that his father’s bank had alerted them that he suddenly had taken $45,000 from his account.
The father has acknowledged that he has been making payments to representatives of an overseas lottery who notified him that he had won $2.5 million. The son says family members, friends and several law enforcement officials all have been unable to convince him that he is the victim of a scam.
“I can’t get him to understand,” the son said. “He’s got too much invested in this to let it go.”
The Ladue man’s brother said that thieves somehow were able to convince the man that he had won $22 million in a lottery and then began demanding money for taxes and other fees. He said his brother has become “very secretive” about the lottery over the past several months. He does not know the extent to which his brother is still involved with the scammers. The Ladue man will not cooperate with authorities. He believes that if he stops cooperating with the scammers, he could be killed.
“You can’t imagine the way these people work,” the brother said. “These people will not let go of you. They are going to harass him until the day he dies. This has destroyed his life.”
The Task Force said threats and intimidation are being reported nationwide. In coming weeks, some members of the Task Force will be participating in a research study of the Jamaican lottery problem, focusing on possible solutions.
Last month, the Senate Special Committee on Aging agreed to investigate Jamaica-based phone scams, including lottery scams. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said some residents of her state had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Task Force offers these additional tips to determine whether a friend or family member is being victimized by a lottery or sweepstakes scam:
- Raise the topic as part of a normal conversation. If the friend or family member is not being victimized, the conversation could serve to educate them about the issue. If they are being victimized, they might agree to share information about the scam.
- Be concerned about phone calls that your loved one either does not answer or dismisses with general, vague comments. Many Jamaican calls come from an 876 area code.
- If a friend or family member who has been financially comfortable suddenly becomes concerned about money issues, it could be a sign that he or she is a fraud victim.
- Be alert to persons purchasing money orders, pre-paid cards or wire transfers when they have no history of similar purchases. It may be a sign that they are dealing with a scammer.
If a person admits to being victimized, ask him or her to discuss the matter with law enforcement.
The Task Force is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud.
The group has tackled predatory payday loan offers, tax scams, timeshare reselling fraud, credit repair and foreclosure scams, bogus sweepstakes, Internet sweetheart scams, home remodeling and contracting fraud and a wide variety of other issues.
To obtain information, or to report a scam, you may contact members of the Task Force:Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois
– (314) 645-3300; www.bbb.org
.Federal Trade Commission
– (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357); www.ftc.gov
.Illinois Attorney General
– (800) 243-0618; www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov
.Missouri Attorney General
– (800) 392-8222; www.ago.mo.gov
.U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri
– (314) 539-2200; www.usdoj.gov/usao/moe
.U.S. Postal Inspection Service
– (877) 876-2455; postalinspectors.uspis.gov
U.S. Secret Service – (314) 539-2238; www.secretservice.gov
.Better Business Bureau in Greater Kansas City
– (816) 421-7800; www.bbb.org
Other task force members include:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Illinois
Missouri Secretary of State, Securities Division
Illinois State Treasurer's Office
Better Business Bureau in Southwest Missouri
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri
Legal Services of Southern Missouri
Legal Services of Western Missouri
Mid-Missouri Legal Services
Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation