Several Massachusetts seniors have paid a hefty price after falling prey to a Canadian lottery scam, Danvers Police announced this week, and they've issued a public warning.
"Danvers has had four incidents this year, with victim's losing an average of $8,000," Sgt. Robert Bettencourt said.
Recouping the losses will be tricky, police said, since the suspects based in Canada are using false identities to claim the cash and moving on to other victims assuming a new identity.
The elderly residents were contacted by mail and phone by individuals telling the unsuspecting seniors they had won millions in a Canadian lottery, Bettencourt said. The victims were told they would first have to pay off taxes on the winnings in order to receive their millions in lottery winnings.
"These individuals were asked to wire the money to Canada using Western Union," Bettencourt said. "After sending the money, sometimes they are called back and asked to send more."
"Western Union advises our customers that using the money transfers is a great way to get money to family and friends," Sherry Johnson, Western Union corporate communications manager said Tuesday, "However, we advise all our customers not to ever send money to strangers."
Western Union is a person-to-person service, Johnson said. Pay-outs are made at various Western Union locations, including Canada, and it's a system easily abused if you do not personally know the person to whom you're wiring the money.
"We require individuals claiming money to present identification and know the specifics of the transaction," Johnson said. "We educate our agents on the types of fraud, but it's difficult to stop unless the consumer wiring the money tells the agent the purpose of payment."
The most recent scam involving a Danvers victim occurred on Nov. 29, police said. An elderly man was bilked out more than $10,000 he sent through a Western Union wire transfer at a Middleton office. After claiming the cash in Canada, the same man called the victim asking for more money to complete the transaction. The second request was not met after the victim's friends intervened and advised him to contact police.
Although Johnson could not provide details of this specific incident, she did say that the wire transfer company works cooperatively with law enforcement in all fraud investigations. In an effort the thwart the illegal activity, all U.S. Western Union agents receive a monthly newsletter advising of fraud trends, Johnson said.
Three other similar Danvers scams occurred earlier this year in January, July and September, police said. Four incidents occurred last year.