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Elderly man makes the right call on lottery scam

Scam AlertScam Alert: Elderly man makes the right call on lottery scam
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In the Star-Telegram "Watchdog" column, Dave Lieber recounts how an 86-year-old man did the right thing by not getting hooked in by lottery scammers again.

For more than a year, George Kahak has followed my request that he call me before investing any more money in get-rich schemes. The 86-year-old former chief pilot for American Airlines is a compulsive scam victim. He's lost tens of thousands of dollars in dozens of scams.

The other day, he called to say that he won $500,000 in a lottery and that the contest promoters were coming over to his house to explain the details.

Turns out, they didn't visit. They called instead. I was there. That's how I got to talk to Inspector Luigi.

He called Kahak. I took the phone and explained that Kahak was hard of hearing and that I was there to help him.

"My name is Inspector Luigi Azarelo, and I work with the U.S. Customs Department" at Miami Airport.

"I was the federal agent in charge of an investigation on a package he has here right now at the airport. I did confirm with the Federal Trade Commission directly with the consumer protection program that the sender is registered as a sweepstakes company out of Vegas.

"We receive about 100 packages a day just like this every day, and 98 percent are not for real. We just send them back because they have fraudulent activity."

The rest, he said, are "100 percent for real."

"The only thing — this package I'm holding here to be released [has] pending duties and tariffs that were not paid when this package got registered down in Costa Rica.

"Even though I'm sure the package is legit, my job is to send it back. What I do now is I just take two minutes out of my day to make a courtesy call to the owner of the package. Maybe if you wanted to go ahead and claim it, I can give you information on how to claim it. If not, I'll just go ahead and send it back. It's really the same to me."

I said, "Let me get a pencil."

The cost for "customs duties and tariffs" was $1,500.

"What's in the package?" I asked.

"Oh, a check for a total of $495,000."

"For what exactly?"

He said the sweepstakes company was authentic. He had confirmed that with the Federal Trade Commission.

"This is coming from Costa Rica. I'm pretty sure you know that all the sweepstakes companies have their money offshore. Every time you win money, it's totally free of taxes because they keep their money offshore. That's why when he receives that money, he will not be paying taxes on it."

I offered to bring the payment to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office in Texas. But he didn't like that idea.

"I recommend you use Western Union. They take cash. They will give you a receipt with a 10-digit control number. You need to call me back with that number. As soon as I get in contact with the people down in Costa Rica and they confirm that it was sent, I'll be sending the package.

"Now you know I'm located at the Miami Airport. So I do have flights to Texas every 25 minutes. It will be a matter of a few hours before you have the package in your hand. Sounds good?"

He said to send $1,595 to Armando Lopez-Canteno, 1801 Central Ave., San Jose, Costa Rica.

Then he promised to call back with information about the flight delivering the package to Texas.

"Let me ask you, sir. How long do you think it's going to take? Because I do have to schedule the flight for you."

That moment, Kahak's clock, beside the phone, began to chime on the hour mark. The sound disrupted the call until I said, "That's perfect. My alarm is about to go off on you."

I told Inspector Luigi that I work as The Watchdog at the Star-Telegram and that I often write about "guys like you."

My schedule? I explained that I would share his story with you in today's column.

Then I asked something I always wanted to know: Why would a good communicator like him waste his skills on hurting the elderly?

"What are you talking about, sir?" he asked.

I said I was certain he was not who he said he was. There was no contest. He lied.

"Sir, you've got to be careful. You're talking to a federal agent.  . . .  I'm located on Concourse J, up on the third level, OK? You want to look for me, look around. If you don't, just lose your package."

He hung up.

A few days later, I called again. Inspector Luigi picked up. I recognized his voice.

"We got cut off last week," I said.

"Let me transfer you," he said. "Just one second."

The call was disconnected.

Called back. Same guy. But not according to him.

"He's out of the terminal," he insisted. "Can I have you call him back?"

Whatever.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection says its officers never notify an individual by phone and demand payment on a foreign lottery prize. There is no duty on currency or monetary instruments imported into the United States.

Thanks, George, for calling me.

Star-Telegram

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9 comments. Last comment 7 years ago by trulyblessed.
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rcbbuckeye's avatar - Lottery-043.jpg
Texas
United States
Member #55889
October 23, 2007
5591 Posts
Offline
Posted: December 14, 2009, 8:32 am - IP Logged

Good story. I love reading his column.

Thanks, Todd

    Tenaj's avatar - michellea
    Charlotte NC
    United States
    Member #17406
    June 18, 2005
    4053 Posts
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    Posted: December 14, 2009, 8:44 am - IP Logged

    You can't put this kind of stuff out there too much.  People continue to get scammed no matter how much you say it over and over.  I received an email that appeared to come from the IRS that looks so legit it was unreal.

    takeemtothebank

      Todd's avatar - Cylon 2.gif
      Chief Bottle Washer
      New Jersey
      United States
      Member #1
      May 31, 2000
      23260 Posts
      Online
      Posted: December 14, 2009, 8:57 am - IP Logged

      You can't put this kind of stuff out there too much.  People continue to get scammed no matter how much you say it over and over.  I received an email that appeared to come from the IRS that looks so legit it was unreal.

      Hopefully you'll rate the story accordingly.

       

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        HaveABall's avatar - rocket

        United States
        Member #72448
        March 18, 2009
        1227 Posts
        Offline
        Posted: December 15, 2009, 4:46 pm - IP Logged

        I'm certainly glad that both the Star-Telegram and "Watchdog" columnist, Dave Lieber, exist to provide valuable, free help to our needy U.S.A. society!

        Group Hug

        Having several millions of dollars in my financial accounts means receiving several valuable services each day!

        Disney

          konane's avatar - wallace
          Atlanta, GA
          United States
          Member #1265
          March 13, 2003
          3333 Posts
          Online
          Posted: December 15, 2009, 4:58 pm - IP Logged

          Great story!  Scammers are really evolving into more sophisticated story lines.

          Good luck to everyone!

            Avatar
            NH
            United States
            Member #83352
            December 5, 2009
            223 Posts
            Offline
            Posted: December 16, 2009, 2:52 pm - IP Logged

            One would think a man capable of flying sophisticated aircraft for many years would see these types of scams coming a mile away. At least he figured this one out.  But just to be safe, i'm gonna scratch American Airlines off my list of airlines to never fly again.

              curt777's avatar - pacman
              Palatine, IL
              United States
              Member #734
              September 24, 2002
              61 Posts
              Offline
              Posted: December 20, 2009, 10:28 am - IP Logged

              I'm amazed that this poor guy was smart enought to be a commercial jet pilot, yet foolish enough to fall a lottery scam.  It just proves that no matter how "book-smart" one may be, anyone can be scammed.  I'm always curious why the people getting aksed to send money, don't just say to the scammer, "take my taxes, fees, duties, etc. out of the principal and just send me the remainder".  Plus I've never heard of so many people sending money via Western Union either.  I'm just about to turn 43, and I've never used Western Union once in my life.  I couldn't tell you the first thing about it.  And I'm reading all sorts of stories that BILLIONS of U.S. currency leaves this country every day in that fashion to these scams...  That just blows my mind.  It's like a free ATM for the scammers.  Technically, you don't even need to talk on the phone to get scammed.  Just go play some Illinois Little Lotto or scratch-cards, they'll take your money just as well!!!  Thinking of...

                Avatar

                United States
                Member #10720
                January 23, 2005
                933 Posts
                Offline
                Posted: December 20, 2009, 12:01 pm - IP Logged

                That bites. I am still waiting for my UK Lottery T-shirt and Official Green Laptop and check for a million "pounds" of something. They're still waiting for the $700 postage and handling for "TNT Courier Services". More than I paid for this laptop! It better come with Windows 7! I don't like how they have terrible grammar, poor Photoshop skillz and they want to pay me in "pounds" which nobody accepts around here! And they don't let you pick your own numbers! Anyway I already won the UK Lottery and even the Nigerian Lottery many times (but not paid yet)!

                  trulyblessed's avatar - yocco
                  Durham, North Carolina
                  United States
                  Member #58710
                  February 23, 2008
                  6845 Posts
                  Offline
                  Posted: December 21, 2009, 7:35 pm - IP Logged

                  Hopefully you'll rate the story accordingly.

                  I never noticed the star rating on news articles here. I'll start rating them from now on!!!Thumbs Up

                  Lovies