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Driven to death by phone scammers

Scam AlertScam Alert: Driven to death by phone scammers
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(CNN) — The phone calls wouldn't stop.

The man on the other end of the line made promises of a big payoff: millions of dollars in prize money. But first the IRS needed $1,500 in taxes, he insisted, then the jackpot would arrive at the family home, a camera crew ready to capture the excitement.

The calls came a couple of times a day; other times, nearly 50.

Mr. Albert, we need the money to be sent today ...

Don't hang up the phone, Mr. Albert ...

Mr. Albert, don't tell your wife about this ...

Albert Poland Jr. had worked 45 years for the Burlington hosiery factory in Harriman, Tennessee, starting off as a mechanic before rising to become a quality-control manager.

He and his wife, Virginia, were living a humble life in the Appalachian foothills near Knoxville, having raised a son and daughter in their 62 years of marriage. The family patriarch was known simply as Daddy.

At age 81, his mind was faltering. He suffered from Alzheimer's and dementia. And the caller — a man in Jamaica — preyed on that vulnerability.

Poland's lucidity fluctuated. In February, he went to the local police station and asked whether they could make the phone calls from the 876 area code stop. Another time, he went to the post office to send money to his caller. The teller stopped him, talked with him and handed him a brochure on Jamaican lottery scams. He thanked her.

His family tried to intervene numerous times. On one of his good days, he told his wife simply, "I'm in too deep."

On March 21, the caller asked for $1,500. Poland withdrew the maximum $400 from his ATM and sent it via Western Union. He was sure he was going to win more than $2 million. He hoped to pay off his son's mortgage and help his family for years to come.

His son, Chris Poland, was livid when his mother told him his father was talking with the caller again. Chris, 53, had had the same conversation for months with his dad; his father had sent more than $5,000 to the caller. Chris spoke with his father like most any son would. "Daddy, you taught me the value of the dollar. Why are you giving money away?"

As father and son talked by cell phone, the Jamaican called back on Poland's land line.

Mr. Albert...

The next morning, a Sunday, was like a repeat record. More calls and another tense phone conversation between father and son.

Virginia got dressed for church. Her husband decided to stay home.

It was a beautiful spring morning, with temperatures hovering around 60 degrees and the trees a lush green. Poland strolled around his yard. A neighbor waved: "Looks like we're gonna have to start mowing soon."

"Yeah, looks like it," Poland said.

He walked to the basement of the family home. He carried with him a snub-nose .38 revolver.

In his suicide note, Poland told his family not to spend much on his funeral and said he hoped that when more than $2 million arrived tomorrow, it would vindicate him.

'Truly heartbreaking'

Albert Poland was in the grips of a Jamaican lottery scammer — part of a cottage industry that targets nearly 300,000 Americans a year, most of them elderly, and has enticed them to send an estimated $300 million annually to the Caribbean island nation.

AARP has run campaigns warning about the scams originating from the Jamaican 876 area code. The U.S. Postal Service has published pamphlets and distributed them across the country. The Senate Special Committee on Aging held hearings two years ago about the magnitude of the problem and urged U.S. and Jamaican authorities to do more.

"The Jamaican lottery scam is a cruel, persistent and sophisticated scam that has victimized seniors throughout the nation," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the committee's chairwoman. "It is truly heartbreaking that this scam has robbed seniors of hundreds of millions of dollars."

It's such a huge problem in Jamaica that the scams have been dubbed the highest-level Tier 1 threat: a "clear and present danger" to national security, says Peter Bunting, Jamaica's national security minister.

From children to the nation's most tech-savvy 20-somethings, from a former deputy mayor of Montego Bay to the most vicious gang members, lottery scams have left few segments of the island nation untouched.

"It is extremely corrosive to the fabric of society," Bunting says. "We have seen where it has corrupted police officers. It has corrupted legitimate businesspersons who end up playing some role in laundering money."

The Poland family first spoke to CNN in April. Investigators are looking into Albert Poland's case and hope to provide some solace to the family soon; for now, his scammer remains at large.

From there, CNN followed the money, traveling to ground zero of the scams, Montego Bay, where we witnessed a police raid of a suspect's house.

In Jamaica, more than 200 deaths a year have been tied to the scams. And in the United States, the scams have cost people their lives — and their life savings.

Trial marks U.S. first

Edna Schmeets looks like she's straight out of "The Golden Girls" central casting: a grandma with curly gray hair and a 5-foot-2 frame. At 86, she's soft-spoken, yet opinionated.

Just a month after Albert Poland took his life in Tennessee, Schmeets faced down her scammer in federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Sanjay Ashani Williams started off as a scammer around 2008, making calls to elderly Americans. He eventually graduated to buying and selling caller lists — reams of information containing the names and numbers of tens of thousands of potential victims.

Williams made more than $5 million on his operation, the government said. His case marked the first U.S. trial of what officials call a "lead list scammer."

In addition to dealing in lists, Williams continued making calls himself, including to Schmeets.

"He said I had won this $19 million from American Cash Awards and that I would have to, you know, pay taxes on this money before they would release it," Schmeets testified, according to trial transcripts. "And they kept calling about sending another check and another check and another check. I mean, it just kept on and on until I had both my life insurances gone, all my savings. Everything.

"I just had lost everything."

She sent checks for $65,000, $57,000 and $20,000 over the course of the next nine months.

How much did she lose total?

"Oh, my goodness," she testified. "When I figured it out, it was about $297,000."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter probed, "Did you become suspicious after you kept sending money and you didn't get your prize?"

"Yes, I did," Schmeets replied.

But she said she was told not to tell anyone "about this until you get your winnings, your $19 million. Then, you can tell everybody."

Why keep sending money?

Because, Schmeets testified, she was told she would get "all your money back, plus the $19 million."

Schmeets and her husband, Lawrence, had been married 62 years. They lived on a small cattle farm. Her husband worked in the railroad industry; she clerked at a grocery store to bring in extra cash. They raised five children: four boys and one girl. The family had endured tragedy years ago when one of their sons died at age 31.

Her husband died in 2010. Phone calls congratulating her on winning a lottery began in fall 2011 and continued through June 2012.

Her motivations for wanting the money were simple: "I was going to just give it to my children."

Instead, all that she and her husband had worked for was gone.

She glanced occasionally across the room at Williams. He never returned her gaze. Instead, she said, he rifled through a garbage bag containing hundreds of pages of court documents. He was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, with a bushy beard and braids piled on top of his head.

She thought about how different he was than the person she had envisioned. "He seemed like such a nice guy on the phone," Schmeets would say later.

Williams operated out of Montego Bay and established an intricate network of runners based in Charlotte, North Carolina, to pick up money and send it to him.

His website, gamblerslead.com, was a gold mine for scammers seeking phone numbers for elderly Americans. Authorities studied more than 500,000 emails connected to the site, an FBI agent testified.

Authorities discovered that Williams was buying lists at wholesale on the black market, where they can go for up to $5,000 and contain tens of thousands of names. He carved up the lists and sold names and numbers to callers for $5.50 apiece.

Thirty-two people in the United States and Jamaica were indicted in the scheme. Eleven pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, seven are awaiting trial, and 14 are awaiting extradition. According to authorities, many pretended to be FBI agents, bank personnel and IRS workers to convince people that their lottery winnings were real.

Seventy-two Americans, all older than 55, were identified as losing money in Williams' operation.

William Porter, 94, was a fighter pilot in World War II in the Pacific theater. He lost $250,000. Charlotte Davis, 64, was also targeted. She testified that she was told by her scammer that if she didn't send the money, he'd rape her daughters and kill her son.

A 72-year-old victim from Odessa, Texas, committed suicide. Prosecutor Hochhalter told CNN that it was too difficult legally to bring homicide charges in the case. "But we believe we have the factual evidence to suggest that this offense involved conduct that created a risk of serious bodily injury or death," Hochhalter said. "And that's evidenced by the fact that at least one person did commit suicide."

Williams was combative at the defense table through much of the trial. He said his rights were violated when he was arrested on a trip in North Carolina, and he threw fits that annoyed even his own lawyer. He refused the judge's recommendation to wear nice clothes in court, instead opting for his prison outfit. He had the same reaction when the judge suggested he might want to consider a plea deal that would result in three to five years in prison.

Instead, Williams placed his fate in the hands of a jury.

His attorney, Charles Stock, tried to make the case that hotels, credit card companies, casinos and other companies buy and sell Americans' personal information all the time — and that it's perfectly legal. This is true, the prosecution countered, but it becomes illegal when you knowingly use the information for a crime.

Williams was convicted on an array of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering charges. He faces up to 40 years in prison.

"That was a big relief," Schmeets said, "to know that he's going to prison."

During the trial, an expert from Jamaica's equivalent of the FBI gave an assessment of just how endemic the scamming has become.

Kevin Watson, a corporal with Jamaica's Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency, told the court that many Jamaicans see scamming as "the only source of income for them."

"In small pockets of communities," Watson said, "you will find many persons involved in this activity. You will also find children who grew up ... to believe that this is OK — it's OK to get involved in lottery scamming."

Deadly competition

The turquoise water off the coast of Montego Bay serves as a majestic paradise for millions of tourists.

But outside the walls of the resorts, the victims of lottery scams are counted not by sums of money lost but by an ever-growing tally of bodies.

The expansive four-lane highway along Montego Bay's Resort Row gives way to winding, pothole-filled roads where corrugated-tin homes press up against the cracked pavement. Goats straddle the sides of roads barely wide enough for two cars.

It is here in the ghettos that competition for calling lists has turned deadly.

More than 200 Jamaicans a year are killed in connection with lottery scams — a fifth of the killings in the island nation, which has the dubious distinction of being among the most violent countries per capita in the world.

Scammers who sell names and numbers to callers expect a cut of their profits; if they find out they're being cheated, they'll hunt down and kill the caller or a member of his family. Other killings occur when rival gang members steal caller lists.

"It's a cancer in the society," says Luis Moreno, the U.S ambassador to Jamaica. "Gangs escalate armed competition with each other over who is going to control these lists and who is going to get the best scammers, the best phone numbers, the best phone guys. Even children as young as 10, 12 years old are tied in as couriers."

In June, a 14-year-old was dragged out of his home and machine-gunned by gang members connected to the scams. The same fate befell a 62-year-old grandmother in July. Two American women were wounded in August at a nightclub when a gang member opened fire on a rival who owed him money. The rival was killed.

"These gangs are often indiscriminate," says Bunting, the national security minister. "When they come looking for their target, if they don't find him, they will shoot members of his family to essentially send a message."

The average Jamaican makes about $300 a month. The top lottery scammers boast of bringing in $100,000 a week. They share videos of washing cars with champagne and show off by setting fire to thousands of dollars in cash.

Scammers justify their actions by calling it reparations for slavery, authorities say.

We're robbing the rich to pay the poor, scammers think. If someone is stupid enough to send us money, that's their fault.

"You're not stealing from the rich to give to the poor," Moreno says. "In fact, you're victimizing the most vulnerable people of a society — Jamaican as well as the U.S."

Lottery scamming sprang up between 1998 and 1999 when legitimate American and Canadian call centers set up operations in Montego Bay. Young Jamaicans were trained on how to empathize with customers.

No one could have known how those skills would result in today's flourishing scam business.

Kenrick Stephenson, known simply as Bebe, is credited with being the country's first lottery scammer. His hub sprang out of Granville, one of Montego Bay's poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods. Bebe trained, recruited and cultivated young scammers.

Mansions popped up, taking over land where squatters dwelled. Expensive cars cruised the streets. Scammers flashed their bling. At the gates of call centers, scammers lurked, offering money to anyone who would provide lead lists.

But even the godfather of lottery scams wasn't immune to the spiraling violence. Bebe's life was snubbed out gangland-style at the gates of his mansion in the plush Ironshore neighborhood of Montego Bay in May 2014.

Showing how intricately tied scammers are within Jamaican society, Bebe was a prominent gay activist and powerful figure within the ruling People's National Party. When he was killed, a party member said he would be "sadly missed." His casket was said to be made of gold.

Top officials know that the stakes are great. If the violence moves closer to the resorts and scares off visitors, the nation's economy would crumble. Its multibillion-dollar tourism industry counts for about 90% of the economy.

"We have to have a zero-tolerance approach," Bunting says. "We need to establish that this is as much a crime as drug trafficking, as much a crime as if you held up somebody with a gun. It is in some ways even more cruel because of the age and the vulnerability of the victims."

A Jamaican raid

The sign at the entrance to Rosemount Gardens, a middle- to upper-class neighborhood in Montego Bay, reads: "The law is active here. Take no chances."

Today, the law is active.

Wham. Wham. Wham. Two agents pound on the front door of a house. The sound echoes around the neighborhood. A dog barks from a nearby house.

One of the agents has a 9 mm machine gun. The other is armed with a Glock handgun. More are standing back. They've gotten intelligence that a man inside has earned maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars from scamming.

The house, once a one-room concrete shack, is undergoing extensive renovations, including a new wing and a front porch with intricate floor-to-ceiling grill work — fancy burglar bars to keep intruders out. A mound of sand sits next to the porch. A stucco front wall remains unfinished.

Inside, the suspect grabs a hammer and drives a nail into his laptop, piercing the hard drive. He runs to his bathroom and throws the laptop in a bucket of water in his shower. He begins eating pieces of notebook paper.

The agent with the machine gun kicks open the door and rushes inside. Other agents follow, their Glocks drawn, and go through the house room-to-room.

In seconds, they spot the suspect in a back bedroom. Wearing only gray briefs, he holds his hands in the air and falls down on his bed.

"You get out of bed!" an agent screams.

The suspect moans, a mortified look across his face.

"Right now! Right now! Downnnnnnnn!"

He lies on his stomach on the bedroom floor. An agent handcuffs him. That's when authorities realize he's chewing on something.

"Spit it out! Spit out everything!"

An agent pulls out a machete and stands over the suspect, the blade looming over his head. He coughs up pieces of paper with names and numbers.

Kevin Watson, the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption official who testified at the North Dakota trial, oversees the raid on this August day. Watson is a made-for-Hollywood cop, with slick-backed hair, a million-dollar smile and effusive pride in law enforcement.

Watson stands in the bedroom, the handcuffed suspect next to him. Authorities have found a treasure trove: the laptop, the chewed-up paper, cell phones and a notebook with dozens of names and numbers.

Watson holds up a flip phone and scrolls through the call log. Scammers prefer to use flip phones instead of smartphones to limit their digital footprint. Calls to America were made at 10:42 a.m., 10:43, 10:46, 10:47. Each call went to a different area code.

"It's quite unlikely that you know someone from all these states," Watson says.

He turns to the suspect. "How long have you been involved in lottery scamming?" Watson asks. "I don't want you to tell me that you're not involved, because we didn't come here by chance. If you understand how MOCA works, you understand that we came here because we know what you're up to. All right. So how long have you been involved in lottery scamming?"

The suspect says he wishes not to speak. Under further questioning, he acknowledges that he defrauded people a "few years ago."

"Like how many years?" Watson asks.

"I don't want to respond," the suspect says.

"You do understand that we can get all of that information, right? So it would be prudent for you to be honest with us," Watson replies.

Silence.

In the suspect's wallet is the name, address and Social Security number of a 69-year-old man in Wisconsin. The suspect admits he's never been to Wisconsin.

Investigators log all items seized and bag them. They take away the suspect to be booked and jailed. He has been charged with "knowingly possessing identity information of other persons with intention to commit an offense," Watson says.

Four years ago, Watson scrapped his IT job for the opportunity to conduct raids like these. At 37, the father of two young children has made targeting lottery scams one of his primary aims.

When he spoke at an elementary school this year, a teacher pulled him aside and told him that 17 of the 35 students in her class wanted to be lottery scammers. He spoke with two boys, ages 7 and 9, who told him they hoped to become scammers so they could drive fancy cars and live in big houses.

Watson's heart sank. "I was very broken by what I heard," he recalls. "What lottery scamming is doing is making it look like only thieves live in Jamaica."

As he leaves the scene of the raid this day, he walks out the broken front door and gives a thumbs up.

"We're successful with this one," he says.

Plugging the leaks

Watson and his Jamaican colleagues have begun making headway in the fight, although they admit it will be a long battle.

Law enforcement personnel have met with priests and preachers, business leaders and teachers to talk about the need to stop the scams. Just this year, police have spoken to more than 10,000 children and teens at schools across Montego Bay. Their message: There's nothing glamorous about stealing from old people or getting executed.

Jamaican authorities and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a joint task force in 2009, called JOLT, to focus on the scams. But there was little the Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing task force could do, because the scammers were essentially untouchable. There was little political will to prosecute the scammers and few laws to hold them accountable.

And so, they flourished. One prominent rapper glorified scamming in a song. People could walk down the streets of Montego Bay and hear scammers operating in the open, Watson says.

That changed in 2013, when Jamaican lawmakers passed what has become known as the Lottery Scam Law, giving authorities the tools they need to conduct sweeping raids and keep suspects locked up.

More than 500 arrests have been made since then.

Western Union and Moneygram now closely monitor transactions, especially around Montego Bay. Scammers have begun shifting tactics, using money mules to carry cash directly to them. Sometimes, they talk their victims into sending appliances with cash hidden inside.

Call centers have tightened their operations. Employees get searched before and after their shifts. Cell phones, pens, notepads, CDs, flash drives — everything — gets stored in lockers while they work. Their Internet access at work is strictly controlled.

Workers also undergo lie detector tests once a quarter, get fingerprinted and are warned of the likelihood of jail time if caught working with lottery scams.

Those measures have "completely locked down the leakage of information," says Yoni Epstein, who heads a trade group representing more than two dozen call centers in Jamaica.

The centers provide tech support, customer relations and other services for companies like Xerox and Amazon. They employ 17,000 Jamaicans.

Scammers no longer wait outside their gates.

Still, caller lists are available online through black markets, authorities say. Leaks can come from disgruntled workers — if not in Jamaica, then in other countries — or from hackers or other criminal enterprises.

History was made this year when a Jamaican was extradited to the United States for the first time on lottery scam charges. Damion Bryan Barrett, 29, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced in June to 46 months in prison.

"Before all this, I was just going through a very difficult time. Smoking, drinking, just living," Barrett told the judge in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. "I just want to go home to my son — be a better person for him, so this won't happen to him."

Moreno, the U.S. ambassador, says Barrett's extradition "sends the message that there's no way that you can really get away with this."

Jamaica's minister of national security agrees. Bunting says Jamaican officials want more suspects extradited because no Jamaican wants to end up in a U.S. prison. When top drug traffickers from Jamaica were extradited to the United States, Bunting says, it cut down tremendously on his nation's drug trade.

"If we could get maybe a few dozen scammers extradited," he says, "then it could have a similar chilling effect."

Authorities pledge that more extraditions are on their way.

The calls keep coming

The day after Albert Poland killed himself in Tennessee, neighbors brought casserole dishes and reflected on the man who taught Sunday school for more than 45 years.

The phone rang. Caller ID showed that it was from the 876 area code. Then it rang again. And again. And again. More than 40 calls from Jamaica. Poland wasn't even in the ground yet.

Chris Poland could hardly contain his rage. The son decided to do something. He picked up his father's phone, placed it on speaker and hit the record button on his cell phone. He pretended to be his father.

The man on the other end said he hoped to deliver millions today. He said he'd received the $400 from Saturday but needed another $1,500.

"Where is your wife right now?"

"She's at the store," Chris responded.

"Ah, OK, OK, OK. What I need you to do now, Mr. Albert, is I need you to get your bank card and your identification card and go in the car right now. I'm not going to hang up. OK?"

"But I don't have a car. She's in the car," Chris said.

"Ah, and that's the car you'd have to use to go to the Western Union and your bank. Right?"

Yes, Chris told him, adding that maybe he could catch a cab.

"That would be more better, because we don't want your bank to close today and we need to deliver this money," the man said. "We want to deliver your $2.5 million to you before your bank closes, so you can put it in a safe place. OK?"

"OK," Chris responded.

"So go outside right now and get a cab. I'm not going to hang up ..."

"OK," Chris said. "Where will I get the money, the $2.5 million?"

"Remember that we took your address from you on Saturday. It's going to be delivered directly to your doorstep. OK?"

Chris said he needs to hail a cab; the caller promised to call back in 10 minutes. The two hang up.

More than three months after Poland's death, the calls have not ceased.

Sometimes, Virginia Poland picks up the phone. She found her husband's suicide note next to his computer. "He was my best friend. He was my buddy. He was just good to me," she says softly, dabbing tears with a tissue. "When they took him, they took my life, too."

Once, she told her husband's scammer that her husband killed himself. The man laughed. She told him to call the funeral home.

How the scams work

Getting hold of a caller list is gold in the scamming world.

Originating from legitimate calling centers, such lists contain the names, addresses and phone numbers of thousands of Americans and can be purchased online in the black market.

Scammers begin by congratulating their prey for winning a lottery or a Mercedes. Victims are then directed to pay "taxes" up front, typically $1,500 to $3,000 through Western Union or Moneygram. The winnings never surface.

Sometimes scammers send checks for thousands of dollars to lure people in; the checks bounce, but by then the victims have paid their "taxes."

Scammers hook the most vulnerable, often tricking them into sending cash again and again. They sense a lonely person, flatter them and convince them they're friends. Sometimes, victims get coerced into sending TVs and appliances to Jamaica. A rare few have flown to Jamaica and married their scammers.

When victims try to back out, scammers use Google Earth to zoom in on their homes, describe the neighborhood and threaten to kill or rape family members.

One elderly American has been duped of more than $1.5 million, authorities say. Another taped 99 $100 bills to the pages of Better Homes and Gardens and sent it to her scammer.

Three years ago, a 70-year-old engineer sent hundreds of thousands to his scammers. At one point, he received a letter purportedly from the U.S. ambassador to Jamaica asking him to take part in a sting. The man flew to Jamaica, but authorities — who'd gotten wind of the plan — met the man at a bank before he wired $50,000 to his scammers' account. The scammers' had planned to kill him shortly after the transfer.

Some of the more sophisticated scammers send mass mailings to tens of thousands of Americans, asking them to fill out a form and send it back if they want to participate in a sweepstakes. The mailings often appear legitimate. The scammers will look at the handwriting of respondents and focus on ones who appear to be elderly.

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32 comments. Last comment 1 year ago by waltoy.
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Avatar
New York, N.Y.
United States
Member #141059
April 3, 2013
31 Posts
Offline
Posted: October 8, 2015, 12:13 am - IP Logged

I recently received one of those letters telling me that I won nineteen million dollars & that I had to send them like twenty dollars to process my claim. I ripped it up & through it in the garbage. I also get emails telling me that's rich guy died & left me millions in his will & that I needed to send them money from my bank account. I also get phone calls from Jamaicians pretending to be calling from Microsoft & saying that my computer, laptop & iPad have viruses & that I had to send them three hundred dollars for them to remove the viruses. I called Microsoft & they said they never call you on the phone & that the scammers were from Computer Geeks & not Microsoft.

    duckman's avatar - ducklogodrake64x64
    Jacksonville Florida
    United States
    Member #23018
    October 6, 2005
    918 Posts
    Offline
    Posted: October 8, 2015, 1:34 am - IP Logged

    This happens all too often. The low-lifes who perpetuate these scams prey on the most vulnerable.

    Once again, the golden rule to avoid being the victim of a scam is if an offer requires even one cent to claim a prize there is a 100% chance it is a scam. Rule #2 is to treat ALL unsolicited phone calls and emails as 100% scams.

    It's fun sometimes to play around with these guys. When time permits, getting these guys on the phone and stringing them along can make the day go better.

    The "I am with Microsoft and your computer has a virus or problem and we can fix it right now" phone calls are some of the best. It would go something like this:

    (The specifics of the scam can vary, so these responses were based on what they were saying in this particular situation)

    Phone rings and they identify themselves as Microsoft Support and they need to fix my computer blah-blah-blah.

    Me: "Wow, my computer is running slow and acting a bit strange and if we could fix it that would be great".

    (They ask for a credit card number to start, and I tell them all my card numbers and codes are on the computer and I need to turn the computer on to get them a credit card number. I tell them I have a VISA and a MasterCard and can use either one and also telling the scammer I am so glad they called and will fix this.)

    Me: "Ok, I turned the computer on .......... it's taking a long time to come up, that is part of the problem. I will be back on the phone when it finishes booting up"

    (At this point I put the phone down and go away for a few minutes and when I come back he is still on the line!)

    Me: "Ok, I have this message on the screen which says "Updates need to be installed - please wait"

    (The scammer sighs a little and I say I will be back on the phone in a minute. I set the phone down for another several minutes. I return and he is still there!)

    Me: "It is still going. Should I turn it off and back on?"

    Scammer: "NO" (he says in a raised voice)

    (I feel like the scammer is getting a bit agitated, so I throw him a bone)

    Me: "Let me go see if I can find my physical credit card and give you that information. Thank you so much for your time. I will give you an extra $25 for your trouble if we can get this thing fixed."

    (I put the phone down and come back about 5 minutes later - guess what? He is still there)

    Me: "Ok, the computer has come to the main screen. I have a credit card here...do you want the information?"

    Scammer: "Yes. Card number?"

    Me: "OK, it is 6 ....... oh no, the card fell down behind my desk. Hold on a second, let me get it."

    (I put down the phone and make a couple of furniture moving noises. After about 4 or 5 minutes I come back to the phone)

    Me: "The card is wedged behind the file cabinet next to the desk. When I moved the desk out, I accidentally pulled the power cord for the computer out of the wall and the computer turned off."

    (The scammer grumbles a bit and says something I couldn't understand)

    Me: "I am turning it back on. I really do appreciate your time. You are going to get a nice tip whether or not we get this fixed."

    (After about 2 or 3 minutes I break the silence)

    Me: "Still booting up. Someone just came to my front door. Let me see who it is and I will be back..."

    (After about TEN minutes I return and, you guessed it, this first class dolt is still on the line!)

    Me: "Now the computer says that it was powered down incorrectly and is asking me to continue or cancel."

    Me: "I pressed continue and it looks like the computer turned itself off and then back on. Do you want to call back tomorrow?"

    Scammer: "I need a credit card number."

    Me: "Do you take Western Union?"

    Scammer: "I need a credit card number."

    Me: "What about Walmart Green Dot Cards?"

    Scammer: "Credit cards"

    Me: "What about if I give you a bank account number?"

    (Silence on the other end)

    Me: "What about debit cards?"

    Me: "Do you take cash mailed to you?"

    Scammer: "I think you are not sincere about wanting to get your computer fixed. I am no idiot."

    Me: "Please, don't sell yourself short...you are a tremendous idiot"

    Me: "Let me give you the tip I said I would give you. The tip is 'watch out for scammers'".

    He finally hung up.

      maximumfun's avatar - Lottery-030.jpg
      Lavender Rocket

      United States
      Member #124616
      March 16, 2012
      2642 Posts
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      Posted: October 8, 2015, 4:28 am - IP Logged

      wow.  that is a saddening article.  just wow.

        hearsetrax's avatar - 0118

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        May 21, 2007
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        Posted: October 8, 2015, 5:38 am - IP Logged

          Bondi Junction
          Australia
          Member #57242
          December 24, 2007
          1102 Posts
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          Posted: October 8, 2015, 6:02 am - IP Logged

          The phone calls wouldn't stop.

          The man on the other end of the line made promises of a big payoff: millions of dollars in prize money. But first the IRS needed $1,500 in taxes, he insisted, then the jackpot would arrive at the family home, a camera crew ready to capture the excitement.

          The calls came a couple of times a day; other times, nearly 50.

          Mr. Albert, we need the money to be sent today ...

          Don't hang up the phone, Mr. Albert ...

          Mr. Albert, don't tell your wife about this ...

          Albert Poland Jr. had worked 45 years for the Burlington hosiery factory in Harriman, Tennessee, starting off as a mechanic before rising to become a quality-control manager.

          He and his wife, Virginia, were living a humble life in the Appalachian foothills near Knoxville, having raised a son and daughter in their 62 years of marriage. The family patriarch was known simply as Daddy.

          At age 81, his mind was faltering. He suffered from Alzheimer's and dementia. And the caller — a man in Jamaica — preyed on that vulnerability.

          Poland's lucidity fluctuated. In February, he went to the local police station and asked whether they could make the phone calls from the 876 area code stop. Another time, he went to the post office to send money to his caller. The teller stopped him, talked with him and handed him a brochure on Jamaican lottery scams. He thanked her.

          His family tried to intervene numerous times. On one of his good days, he told his wife simply, "I'm in too deep."

          On March 21, the caller asked for $1,500. Poland withdrew the maximum $400 from his ATM and sent it via Western Union. He was sure he was going to win more than $2 million. He hoped to pay off his son's mortgage and help his family for years to come.

          His son, Chris Poland, was livid when his mother told him his father was talking with the caller again. Chris, 53, had had the same conversation for months with his dad; his father had sent more than $5,000 to the caller. Chris spoke with his father like most any son would. "Daddy, you taught me the value of the dollar. Why are you giving money away?"

          As father and son talked by cell phone, the Jamaican called back on Poland's land line.

          Mr. Albert...

          The next morning, a Sunday, was like a repeat record. More calls and another tense phone conversation between father and son.

          Virginia got dressed for church. Her husband decided to stay home.

          It was a beautiful spring morning, with temperatures hovering around 60 degrees and the trees a lush green. Poland strolled around his yard. A neighbor waved: "Looks like we're gonna have to start mowing soon."

          "Yeah, looks like it," Poland said.

          He walked to the basement of the family home. He carried with him a snub-nose .38 revolver.

          In his suicide note, Poland told his family not to spend much on his funeral and said he hoped that when more than $2 million arrived tomorrow, it would vindicate him.

          'Truly heartbreaking'

          Albert Poland was in the grips of a Jamaican lottery scammer — part of a cottage industry that targets nearly 300,000 Americans a year, most of them elderly, and has enticed them to send an estimated $300 million annually to the Caribbean island nation.

          AARP has run campaigns warning about the scams originating from the Jamaican 876 area code. The U.S. Postal Service has published pamphlets and distributed them across the country. The Senate Special Committee on Aging held hearings two years ago about the magnitude of the problem and urged U.S. and Jamaican authorities to do more.

          "The Jamaican lottery scam is a cruel, persistent and sophisticated scam that has victimized seniors throughout the nation," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the committee's chairwoman. "It is truly heartbreaking that this scam has robbed seniors of hundreds of millions of dollars."

          It's such a huge problem in Jamaica that the scams have been dubbed the highest-level Tier 1 threat: a "clear and present danger" to national security, says Peter Bunting, Jamaica's national security minister.

          From children to the nation's most tech-savvy 20-somethings, from a former deputy mayor of Montego Bay to the most vicious gang members, lottery scams have left few segments of the island nation untouched.

          "It is extremely corrosive to the fabric of society," Bunting says. "We have seen where it has corrupted police officers. It has corrupted legitimate businesspersons who end up playing some role in laundering money."

          The Poland family first spoke to CNN in April. Investigators are looking into Albert Poland's case and hope to provide some solace to the family soon; for now, his scammer remains at large.

          From there, CNN followed the money, traveling to ground zero of the scams, Montego Bay, where we witnessed a police raid of a suspect's house.

          In Jamaica, more than 200 deaths a year have been tied to the scams. And in the United States, the scams have cost people their lives — and their life savings.

          Trial marks U.S. first

          Edna Schmeets looks like she's straight out of "The Golden Girls" central casting: a grandma with curly gray hair and a 5-foot-2 frame. At 86, she's soft-spoken, yet opinionated.

          Just a month after Albert Poland took his life in Tennessee, Schmeets faced down her scammer in federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota.

          Sanjay Ashani Williams started off as a scammer around 2008, making calls to elderly Americans. He eventually graduated to buying and selling caller lists — reams of information containing the names and numbers of tens of thousands of potential victims.

          Williams made more than $5 million on his operation, the government said. His case marked the first U.S. trial of what officials call a "lead list scammer."

          In addition to dealing in lists, Williams continued making calls himself, including to Schmeets.

          "He said I had won this $19 million from American Cash Awards and that I would have to, you know, pay taxes on this money before they would release it," Schmeets testified, according to trial transcripts. "And they kept calling about sending another check and another check and another check. I mean, it just kept on and on until I had both my life insurances gone, all my savings. Everything.

          "I just had lost everything."

          She sent checks for $65,000, $57,000 and $20,000 over the course of the next nine months.

          How much did she lose total?

          "Oh, my goodness," she testified. "When I figured it out, it was about $297,000."

          Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter probed, "Did you become suspicious after you kept sending money and you didn't get your prize?"

          "Yes, I did," Schmeets replied.

          But she said she was told not to tell anyone "about this until you get your winnings, your $19 million. Then, you can tell everybody."

          Why keep sending money?

          Because, Schmeets testified, she was told she would get "all your money back, plus the $19 million."

          Schmeets and her husband, Lawrence, had been married 62 years. They lived on a small cattle farm. Her husband worked in the railroad industry; she clerked at a grocery store to bring in extra cash. They raised five children: four boys and one girl. The family had endured tragedy years ago when one of their sons died at age 31.

          Her husband died in 2010. Phone calls congratulating her on winning a lottery began in fall 2011 and continued through June 2012.

          Her motivations for wanting the money were simple: "I was going to just give it to my children."

          Instead, all that she and her husband had worked for was gone.

          She glanced occasionally across the room at Williams. He never returned her gaze. Instead, she said, he rifled through a garbage bag containing hundreds of pages of court documents. He was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, with a bushy beard and braids piled on top of his head.

          She thought about how different he was than the person she had envisioned. "He seemed like such a nice guy on the phone," Schmeets would say later.

          Williams operated out of Montego Bay and established an intricate network of runners based in Charlotte, North Carolina, to pick up money and send it to him.

          His website, gamblerslead.com, was a gold mine for scammers seeking phone numbers for elderly Americans. Authorities studied more than 500,000 emails connected to the site, an FBI agent testified.

          Authorities discovered that Williams was buying lists at wholesale on the black market, where they can go for up to $5,000 and contain tens of thousands of names. He carved up the lists and sold names and numbers to callers for $5.50 apiece.

          Thirty-two people in the United States and Jamaica were indicted in the scheme. Eleven pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, seven are awaiting trial, and 14 are awaiting extradition. According to authorities, many pretended to be FBI agents, bank personnel and IRS workers to convince people that their lottery winnings were real.

          Seventy-two Americans, all older than 55, were identified as losing money in Williams' operation.

          William Porter, 94, was a fighter pilot in World War II in the Pacific theater. He lost $250,000. Charlotte Davis, 64, was also targeted. She testified that she was told by her scammer that if she didn't send the money, he'd rape her daughters and kill her son.

          A 72-year-old victim from Odessa, Texas, committed suicide. Prosecutor Hochhalter told CNN that it was too difficult legally to bring homicide charges in the case. "But we believe we have the factual evidence to suggest that this offense involved conduct that created a risk of serious bodily injury or death," Hochhalter said. "And that's evidenced by the fact that at least one person did commit suicide."

          Williams was combative at the defense table through much of the trial. He said his rights were violated when he was arrested on a trip in North Carolina, and he threw fits that annoyed even his own lawyer. He refused the judge's recommendation to wear nice clothes in court, instead opting for his prison outfit. He had the same reaction when the judge suggested he might want to consider a plea deal that would result in three to five years in prison.

          Instead, Williams placed his fate in the hands of a jury.

          His attorney, Charles Stock, tried to make the case that hotels, credit card companies, casinos and other companies buy and sell Americans' personal information all the time — and that it's perfectly legal. This is true, the prosecution countered, but it becomes illegal when you knowingly use the information for a crime.

          Williams was convicted on an array of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering charges. He faces up to 40 years in prison.

          "That was a big relief," Schmeets said, "to know that he's going to prison."

          During the trial, an expert from Jamaica's equivalent of the FBI gave an assessment of just how endemic the scamming has become.

          Kevin Watson, a corporal with Jamaica's Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency, told the court that many Jamaicans see scamming as "the only source of income for them."

          "In small pockets of communities," Watson said, "you will find many persons involved in this activity. You will also find children who grew up ... to believe that this is OK — it's OK to get involved in lottery scamming."

          Deadly competition

          The turquoise water off the coast of Montego Bay serves as a majestic paradise for millions of tourists.

          But outside the walls of the resorts, the victims of lottery scams are counted not by sums of money lost but by an ever-growing tally of bodies.

          The expansive four-lane highway along Montego Bay's Resort Row gives way to winding, pothole-filled roads where corrugated-tin homes press up against the cracked pavement. Goats straddle the sides of roads barely wide enough for two cars.

          It is here in the ghettos that competition for calling lists has turned deadly.

          More than 200 Jamaicans a year are killed in connection with lottery scams — a fifth of the killings in the island nation, which has the dubious distinction of being among the most violent countries per capita in the world.

          Scammers who sell names and numbers to callers expect a cut of their profits; if they find out they're being cheated, they'll hunt down and kill the caller or a member of his family. Other killings occur when rival gang members steal caller lists.

          "It's a cancer in the society," says Luis Moreno, the U.S ambassador to Jamaica. "Gangs escalate armed competition with each other over who is going to control these lists and who is going to get the best scammers, the best phone numbers, the best phone guys. Even children as young as 10, 12 years old are tied in as couriers."

          In June, a 14-year-old was dragged out of his home and machine-gunned by gang members connected to the scams. The same fate befell a 62-year-old grandmother in July. Two American women were wounded in August at a nightclub when a gang member opened fire on a rival who owed him money. The rival was killed.

          "These gangs are often indiscriminate," says Bunting, the national security minister. "When they come looking for their target, if they don't find him, they will shoot members of his family to essentially send a message."

          The average Jamaican makes about $300 a month. The top lottery scammers boast of bringing in $100,000 a week. They share videos of washing cars with champagne and show off by setting fire to thousands of dollars in cash.

          Scammers justify their actions by calling it reparations for slavery, authorities say.

          We're robbing the rich to pay the poor, scammers think. If someone is stupid enough to send us money, that's their fault.

          "You're not stealing from the rich to give to the poor," Moreno says. "In fact, you're victimizing the most vulnerable people of a society — Jamaican as well as the U.S."

          Lottery scamming sprang up between 1998 and 1999 when legitimate American and Canadian call centers set up operations in Montego Bay. Young Jamaicans were trained on how to empathize with customers.

          No one could have known how those skills would result in today's flourishing scam business.

          Kenrick Stephenson, known simply as Bebe, is credited with being the country's first lottery scammer. His hub sprang out of Granville, one of Montego Bay's poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods. Bebe trained, recruited and cultivated young scammers.

          Mansions popped up, taking over land where squatters dwelled. Expensive cars cruised the streets. Scammers flashed their bling. At the gates of call centers, scammers lurked, offering money to anyone who would provide lead lists.

          But even the godfather of lottery scams wasn't immune to the spiraling violence. Bebe's life was snubbed out gangland-style at the gates of his mansion in the plush Ironshore neighborhood of Montego Bay in May 2014.

          Showing how intricately tied scammers are within Jamaican society, Bebe was a prominent gay activist and powerful figure within the ruling People's National Party. When he was killed, a party member said he would be "sadly missed." His casket was said to be made of gold.

          Top officials know that the stakes are great. If the violence moves closer to the resorts and scares off visitors, the nation's economy would crumble. Its multibillion-dollar tourism industry counts for about 90% of the economy.

          "We have to have a zero-tolerance approach," Bunting says. "We need to establish that this is as much a crime as drug trafficking, as much a crime as if you held up somebody with a gun. It is in some ways even more cruel because of the age and the vulnerability of the victims."

          A Jamaican raid

          The sign at the entrance to Rosemount Gardens, a middle- to upper-class neighborhood in Montego Bay, reads: "The law is active here. Take no chances."

          Today, the law is active.

          Wham. Wham. Wham. Two agents pound on the front door of a house. The sound echoes around the neighborhood. A dog barks from a nearby house.

          One of the agents has a 9 mm machine gun. The other is armed with a Glock handgun. More are standing back. They've gotten intelligence that a man inside has earned maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars from scamming.

          The house, once a one-room concrete shack, is undergoing extensive renovations, including a new wing and a front porch with intricate floor-to-ceiling grill work — fancy burglar bars to keep intruders out. A mound of sand sits next to the porch. A stucco front wall remains unfinished.

          Inside, the suspect grabs a hammer and drives a nail into his laptop, piercing the hard drive. He runs to his bathroom and throws the laptop in a bucket of water in his shower. He begins eating pieces of notebook paper.

          The agent with the machine gun kicks open the door and rushes inside. Other agents follow, their Glocks drawn, and go through the house room-to-room.

          In seconds, they spot the suspect in a back bedroom. Wearing only gray briefs, he holds his hands in the air and falls down on his bed.

          "You get out of bed!" an agent screams.

          The suspect moans, a mortified look across his face.

          "Right now! Right now! Downnnnnnnn!"

          He lies on his stomach on the bedroom floor. An agent handcuffs him. That's when authorities realize he's chewing on something.

          "Spit it out! Spit out everything!"

          An agent pulls out a machete and stands over the suspect, the blade looming over his head. He coughs up pieces of paper with names and numbers.

          Kevin Watson, the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption official who testified at the North Dakota trial, oversees the raid on this August day. Watson is a made-for-Hollywood cop, with slick-backed hair, a million-dollar smile and effusive pride in law enforcement.

          Watson stands in the bedroom, the handcuffed suspect next to him. Authorities have found a treasure trove: the laptop, the chewed-up paper, cell phones and a notebook with dozens of names and numbers.

          Watson holds up a flip phone and scrolls through the call log. Scammers prefer to use flip phones instead of smartphones to limit their digital footprint. Calls to America were made at 10:42 a.m., 10:43, 10:46, 10:47. Each call went to a different area code.

          "It's quite unlikely that you know someone from all these states," Watson says.

          He turns to the suspect. "How long have you been involved in lottery scamming?" Watson asks. "I don't want you to tell me that you're not involved, because we didn't come here by chance. If you understand how MOCA works, you understand that we came here because we know what you're up to. All right. So how long have you been involved in lottery scamming?"

          The suspect says he wishes not to speak. Under further questioning, he acknowledges that he defrauded people a "few years ago."

          "Like how many years?" Watson asks.

          "I don't want to respond," the suspect says.

          "You do understand that we can get all of that information, right? So it would be prudent for you to be honest with us," Watson replies.

          Silence.

          In the suspect's wallet is the name, address and Social Security number of a 69-year-old man in Wisconsin. The suspect admits he's never been to Wisconsin.

          Investigators log all items seized and bag them. They take away the suspect to be booked and jailed. He has been charged with "knowingly possessing identity information of other persons with intention to commit an offense," Watson says.

          Four years ago, Watson scrapped his IT job for the opportunity to conduct raids like these. At 37, the father of two young children has made targeting lottery scams one of his primary aims.

          When he spoke at an elementary school this year, a teacher pulled him aside and told him that 17 of the 35 students in her class wanted to be lottery scammers. He spoke with two boys, ages 7 and 9, who told him they hoped to become scammers so they could drive fancy cars and live in big houses.

          Watson's heart sank. "I was very broken by what I heard," he recalls. "What lottery scamming is doing is making it look like only thieves live in Jamaica."

          As he leaves the scene of the raid this day, he walks out the broken front door and gives a thumbs up.

          "We're successful with this one," he says.

          Plugging the leaks

          Watson and his Jamaican colleagues have begun making headway in the fight, although they admit it will be a long battle.

          Law enforcement personnel have met with priests and preachers, business leaders and teachers to talk about the need to stop the scams. Just this year, police have spoken to more than 10,000 children and teens at schools across Montego Bay. Their message: There's nothing glamorous about stealing from old people or getting executed.

          Jamaican authorities and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a joint task force in 2009, called JOLT, to focus on the scams. But there was little the Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing task force could do, because the scammers were essentially untouchable. There was little political will to prosecute the scammers and few laws to hold them accountable.

          And so, they flourished. One prominent rapper glorified scamming in a song. People could walk down the streets of Montego Bay and hear scammers operating in the open, Watson says.

          That changed in 2013, when Jamaican lawmakers passed what has become known as the Lottery Scam Law, giving authorities the tools they need to conduct sweeping raids and keep suspects locked up.

          More than 500 arrests have been made since then.

          Western Union and Moneygram now closely monitor transactions, especially around Montego Bay. Scammers have begun shifting tactics, using money mules to carry cash directly to them. Sometimes, they talk their victims into sending appliances with cash hidden inside.

          Call centers have tightened their operations. Employees get searched before and after their shifts. Cell phones, pens, notepads, CDs, flash drives — everything — gets stored in lockers while they work. Their Internet access at work is strictly controlled.

          Workers also undergo lie detector tests once a quarter, get fingerprinted and are warned of the likelihood of jail time if caught working with lottery scams.

          Those measures have "completely locked down the leakage of information," says Yoni Epstein, who heads a trade group representing more than two dozen call centers in Jamaica.

          The centers provide tech support, customer relations and other services for companies like Xerox and Amazon. They employ 17,000 Jamaicans.

          Scammers no longer wait outside their gates.

          Still, caller lists are available online through black markets, authorities say. Leaks can come from disgruntled workers — if not in Jamaica, then in other countries — or from hackers or other criminal enterprises.

          History was made this year when a Jamaican was extradited to the United States for the first time on lottery scam charges. Damion Bryan Barrett, 29, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced in June to 46 months in prison.

          "Before all this, I was just going through a very difficult time. Smoking, drinking, just living," Barrett told the judge in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. "I just want to go home to my son — be a better person for him, so this won't happen to him."

          Moreno, the U.S. ambassador, says Barrett's extradition "sends the message that there's no way that you can really get away with this."

          Jamaica's minister of national security agrees. Bunting says Jamaican officials want more suspects extradited because no Jamaican wants to end up in a U.S. prison. When top drug traffickers from Jamaica were extradited to the United States, Bunting says, it cut down tremendously on his nation's drug trade.

          "If we could get maybe a few dozen scammers extradited," he says, "then it could have a similar chilling effect."

          Authorities pledge that more extraditions are on their way.

          The calls keep coming

          The day after Albert Poland killed himself in Tennessee, neighbors brought casserole dishes and reflected on the man who taught Sunday school for more than 45 years.

          The phone rang. Caller ID showed that it was from the 876 area code. Then it rang again. And again. And again. More than 40 calls from Jamaica. Poland wasn't even in the ground yet.

          Chris Poland could hardly contain his rage. The son decided to do something. He picked up his father's phone, placed it on speaker and hit the record button on his cell phone. He pretended to be his father.

          The man on the other end said he hoped to deliver millions today. He said he'd received the $400 from Saturday but needed another $1,500.

          "Where is your wife right now?"

          "She's at the store," Chris responded.

          "Ah, OK, OK, OK. What I need you to do now, Mr. Albert, is I need you to get your bank card and your identification card and go in the car right now. I'm not going to hang up. OK?"

          "But I don't have a car. She's in the car," Chris said.

          "Ah, and that's the car you'd have to use to go to the Western Union and your bank. Right?"

          Yes, Chris told him, adding that maybe he could catch a cab.

          "That would be more better, because we don't want your bank to close today and we need to deliver this money," the man said. "We want to deliver your $2.5 million to you before your bank closes, so you can put it in a safe place. OK?"

          "OK," Chris responded.

          "So go outside right now and get a cab. I'm not going to hang up ..."

          "OK," Chris said. "Where will I get the money, the $2.5 million?"

          "Remember that we took your address from you on Saturday. It's going to be delivered directly to your doorstep. OK?"

          Chris said he needs to hail a cab; the caller promised to call back in 10 minutes. The two hang up.

          More than three months after Poland's death, the calls have not ceased.

          Sometimes, Virginia Poland picks up the phone. She found her husband's suicide note next to his computer. "He was my best friend. He was my buddy. He was just good to me," she says softly, dabbing tears with a tissue. "When they took him, they took my life, too."

          Once, she told her husband's scammer that her husband killed himself. The man laughed. She told him to call the funeral home.

          How the scams work

          Getting hold of a caller list is gold in the scamming world.

          Originating from legitimate calling centers, such lists contain the names, addresses and phone numbers of thousands of Americans and can be purchased online in the black market.

          Scammers begin by congratulating their prey for winning a lottery or a Mercedes. Victims are then directed to pay "taxes" up front, typically $1,500 to $3,000 through Western Union or Moneygram. The winnings never surface.

          Sometimes scammers send checks for thousands of dollars to lure people in; the checks bounce, but by then the victims have paid their "taxes."

          Scammers hook the most vulnerable, often tricking them into sending cash again and again. They sense a lonely person, flatter them and convince them they're friends. Sometimes, victims get coerced into sending TVs and appliances to Jamaica. A rare few have flown to Jamaica and married their scammers.

          When victims try to back out, scammers use Google Earth to zoom in on their homes, describe the neighborhood and threaten to kill or rape family members.

          One elderly American has been duped of more than $1.5 million, authorities say. Another taped 99 $100 bills to the pages of Better Homes and Gardens and sent it to her scammer.

          Three years ago, a 70-year-old engineer sent hundreds of thousands to his scammers. At one point, he received a letter purportedly from the U.S. ambassador to Jamaica asking him to take part in a sting. The man flew to Jamaica, but authorities — who'd gotten wind of the plan — met the man at a bank before he wired $50,000 to his scammers' account. The scammers' had planned to kill him shortly after the transfer.

          Some of the more sophisticated scammers send mass mailings to tens of thousands of Americans, asking them to fill out a form and send it back if they want to participate in a sweepstakes. The mailings often appear legitimate. The scammers will look at the handwriting of respondents and focus on ones who appear to be elderly.

          News story photo(Click to display full-size in gallery)

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          News story photo(Click to display full-size in gallery)

          The Federal Government should call on the Jamaican Government to shut down these scam artists. If they don't, just block all calls from that country, they would act very fast then.

          We all get a lot out of lotteries!

            Gleno's avatar - Lottery-001.jpg
            New Jersey
            United States
            Member #80354
            September 25, 2009
            705 Posts
            Offline
            Posted: October 8, 2015, 6:47 am - IP Logged

            Sad story,

            If you can install a robo call blocker on your phone then it's a great feature, and highly recommended.

            Check with your phone provider to see if they offer this feature or check on line.

            It will save you from answering the numerous calls that are made through out the day and night.

            If you can't install the robo blocker then at a minimum ,a caller ID device,  is another tool to screen your calls.

            Don't rely on the Federal Government to protect you because it's not going to happen.

            Bash

              Avatar
              Pennsylvania
              United States
              Member #78052
              August 6, 2009
              785 Posts
              Offline
              Posted: October 8, 2015, 8:17 am - IP Logged

              Call Block......Use it.   I do all the time.  I get those calls, and trust me, they never call back!

              I know older parents and friends don't want to seem feeble, but sometimes it your duty to step in and protect them from things like this.

              Some grew up in a different era where trusting what they hear and see was normal.   These are not normal times.   

                Emails?   I report them.

              If more people would report those emails as "Spam" the better off we all would be.

              I feel sorry for his wife, shame that she has such a loss.

              Life Is Wonderful If You Don't Weaken

                dallascowboyfan's avatar - tiana the-princess-and-the-frog.jpg
                Oklahoma
                United States
                Member #82391
                November 12, 2009
                6290 Posts
                Offline
                Posted: October 8, 2015, 9:51 am - IP Logged

                Such a sad story, glad they arrested the perp(s) nice to know Sanjay will spend 40 years in prison. Thanks to the families for sharing their stories.

                I Love Pink & Green 1908

                  Raven62's avatar - binary
                  New Jersey
                  United States
                  Member #17843
                  June 28, 2005
                  49835 Posts
                  Offline
                  Posted: October 8, 2015, 10:57 am - IP Logged

                  The Federal Government should call on the Jamaican Government to shut down these scam artists. If they don't, just block all calls from that country, they would act very fast then.

                  If nothing else they could get them to Call Australia instead of the United States. Thud

                  A mind once stretched by a new idea never returns to its original dimensions!

                    Avatar
                    Simpsonville
                    United States
                    Member #163189
                    January 22, 2015
                    678 Posts
                    Offline
                    Posted: October 8, 2015, 11:01 am - IP Logged

                    Such a sad story, glad they arrested the perp(s) nice to know Sanjay will spend 40 years in prison. Thanks to the families for sharing their stories.

                    My late Dad use to get suckered into scammers all the time.  The worst was a woman who had him get credit cards for her and she racked up some serious charges.  She got away with it, but I'm a firm believer in Karma..she'll get hers.  Too bad I live in KY and he was in Olympia, WA.  He would also fall for those lottery jacka$$es and I told him that was illegal and he just laughed.  He was getting Alzheimers.

                    Too bad banks, post offices, what have you weren't required to be more involved in their clients--particularly the elderly.

                    As for me only scammer was someone with a heavy accent saying he was the from IRS.  I had a field day telling him it was a scam.  Then he said 'I'll see you in the courthouse'.  Me eff you MOFO and hung up.

                      Coin Toss's avatar - shape barbed.jpg
                      Zeta Reticuli Star System
                      United States
                      Member #30470
                      January 17, 2006
                      10356 Posts
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                      Posted: October 8, 2015, 11:20 am - IP Logged

                      It's really odd that these people amass the amounts of money they did yet still get scammed.

                      Why would anyone think they won a lottery they didn't play or a sweepstakes they didn't enter?

                      Those who run the lotteries love it when players look for consistency in something that's designed not to have any.

                      Lep

                      There is one and only one 'proven' system, and that is to book the action. No matter the game, let the players pick their own losers.

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                        Egg Harbor twp.south Jersey shore
                        United States
                        Member #112968
                        June 29, 2011
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                        Posted: October 8, 2015, 1:55 pm - IP Logged

                        @ duckman,

                           Great stuff, LMAO, I hope I can remember all that when I get a call, although most time I don't answer the phone less I know who it is.

                         

                        Reminds me of a time a telemarketer had the unfortunate luck of catching me when I had nothing to do, very unusual.

                        Long story short, I kept them on the phone trying to waste their time for so long that I finally asked, why don't you give up ?

                        He said they were not allowed to do that. LMAO !

                        Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds    -- Charles Mackay  LL.D.

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                          Kentucky
                          United States
                          Member #32652
                          February 14, 2006
                          7325 Posts
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                          Posted: October 8, 2015, 4:40 pm - IP Logged

                          It's really odd that these people amass the amounts of money they did yet still get scammed.

                          Why would anyone think they won a lottery they didn't play or a sweepstakes they didn't enter?

                          It becomes an obsession and not all that much different than a gambler trying to recoup their losses. But with this scam, it's impossible to ever recoup the losses. Albert Poland was in denial and wanted to prove to his wife and son that he really did win more than $2 million. The sad part is he opted for suicide when he finally realized he won nothing.

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                            Happy California
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                            August 2, 2014
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                            Posted: October 8, 2015, 4:55 pm - IP Logged

                            Blue AngelThank You Todd for posting this about scamming.  Especially when a Lottery winner is targeted by scammers, crooks, distant relatives and not to distant family members.

                             When Andrew Jackson "Jack" Whitaker said, "Do not give any of your winnings away because once you give it away then they will never stop." 

                             Some past winners have run out of their winnings and when they tried to tell that to the freeloaders, scammers, thieves, the criminals would not believe it. The winners would be threatened by these low lifes.Rant

                             I've been rich and I've been poor. Believe me, rich is better. 

                             Attributed to Joe E. Lewis and others