An Alabama woman recently got $16,800 back after a joint U.S. and Canadian investigation into fraudulent telemarketers who represented themselves as lottery officials.
The Alabama resident, whose name was not released, got her money back on May 14, according to a press release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
A multi-agency U.S-Canada initiative called "Project COLT" was responsible for helping return the money.
Many variations exist on the lottery scams, according to ICE. The scammers tell unknowing or elderly victims they have won the lottery and must pay fees and service charges to be able to collect their fictitious winnings. Con artists often pose as lawyers, customs officials, police officers or lottery company officials to bilk their victims out of millions of dollars, according to ICE.
"I am a lifetime resident of Alabama and was unaware of how complex these schemes can be and how official the presentations were that led me to believe this was an actual offer and legal chance to win," according to a statement from the Alabama victim, who requested her name be withheld.
"The letters and phone calls appeared legitimate as the telemarketers appeared to know a lot of information about me and my family," according to the Alabama fraud victim. "I never knew how this scheme worked until ICE agents returned a portion of my funds that were seized in the fraudulent telemarketing scheme and educated me on the illegal practices of these
telemarketers and how many victims do not come forward to educate the public."
The Alabama fraud victim advised that if someone has a question on similar offers that they call their local police department and ICE to protect against becoming another victim. "I am convinced that if you are a victim you can make a difference by reporting this to ICE and they will keep everything confidential."
Raymond R. Parmer, Jr, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New Orleans, said the case is a good example of the cooperation between ICE and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
"Because of this cooperation, fraudulent telemarketers and other criminals are discovering how difficult it is for them to hide their illegal activities from authorities," Parmer said. "We are dedicated to identifying and dismantling these types of criminal operations wherever and whenever we find them."
Billions of dollars are lost in the U.S. and Canada each year due to telemarketing fraud, according to ICE.
Project COLT began in 1988 and has seized and returned more than $25 million to U.S. and Canadian victims of telemarketing fraud, according to the press release.
ICE has initiated numerous complex criminal investigations due to Project COLT efforts, resulting in 26 U.S. Grand Jury indictments and 161 U.S. and Canada-based arrests. In addition, Canadian law enforcement authorities have executed more than 50 search warrants and shut down 44 Western Union branch offices involved in telemarketing fraud conspiracies.