Exposed fraud ring defrauded 16 known victims in a two and a half-year conspiracy
By Kate Northrop
LOS ANGELES — A Colombian woman who helped a fraud ring execute lottery scams that systematically targeted grandmothers was found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Tuesday, Luisa Camargo, 39, was sentenced to nine months in jail (that she already served) and two years on supervised release. After joining the fraud ring and causing thousands of dollars in losses, she alone will pay $38,069 in restitution as ordered by U.S. District Judge John F. Walter.
She is also subject to deportation, as she was legally admitted to the United States on a tourist visa until August 2010 but remained in the country beyond that date.
Among those initially charged in state court are Tito Lozada, Maria Henao, and Mercedes Montanez. Camargo joined the fraud ring just months before law enforcement ended the charade. In the short amount of time she was working with the scammers, she helped defraud five known victims of her ordered restitution amount, $38,069.
Over the course of two and a half years, the entire fraud ring was responsible for at least $190,422 in losses from 16 known victims.
In an example attempt to con one of their victims, the scammers worked quickly and employed complicated tactics to keep the target confused. The group was known for targeting elderly Latina women between the ages of 64 and 83 who were alone in public. The Los Angeles Police Department dubbed the entire ordeal as the "Latin Lotto Scam."
One scammer would approach the victim claiming that they had a winning lottery ticket but were unable to cash it since they were undocumented. The scammer would then ask the victim to collect the winnings for them but first requested that the victim pay the (fake) fee required to claim the lottery prize. In return, the scammer promised to give the victim a generous portion of the winnings.
At this point, another scammer would "overhear" the conversation and offer money to help pay the supposed fee in a bid to convince the victim that the winning lottery ticket was real. As an added step, another fraudster would be nearby, but out of sight, posing as a lottery official. They would "validate" the ticket over the phone but then falsely claim that the prize can only be claimed with a deposit or fee.
After convincing the victim, the scammers would drive the woman to her home or bank so she could retrieve jewelery, cash, or other items of high value to pay the fake fee. As soon as she hands over her money and valuables to the scammers, they would force her out of the car and drive off.
Police noted that the group approached vulnerable women all throughout various cities including Pacoima, North Hollywood, San Fernando, El Monte, Maywood, Long Beach, Baldwin Park, Hawaiian Gardens, Fontana, Lakewood, San Pedro, and Chula Vista.
They operated like clockwork — the fraud ring aimed to swindle at least four victims a day, looking for potential victims at least four days a week.
"This was an organized group that singled out older women for the sole purpose of ripping off these vulnerable victims with bogus promises of a big payday," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said after the scammers were charged. "While law enforcement will do everything possible to bring criminals like this to justice, this case should serve as a reminder to potential victims and their family members that no one should ever pay an upfront fee in relation to any prize, sweepstakes or lottery."
The Lottery Post staff wants to reiterate and emphasize Hanna's words — there is no lottery that would ever request a deposit or fee to collect a prize, nor would any official lottery send you an e-mail or text message announcing a prize for a ticket that you never bought.
You can find a detailed list of some examples of common lottery scams at USA Mega.