Warnings about phony foreign lottery commission representatives handing out millions go unheeded, according to local police.
In the past few months, we have seen about $231,000 in losses to this scam, says Det. Craig Fawley of the Meridian Police Department. I suspect it is higher due to unknown victims or losses not reported by victims.
In March, the Better Business Bureau talked with an elderly man from Middleton who admitted to sending $10,000 to the sweepstake scammers. After talking with the mans son, who is in law enforcement, it was discovered the man had actually sent as much as $90,000.
The U.S. and Jamaican governments are stepping up efforts to stop the thieves, but they are so good at coercing victims into their con that it remains prevalent.
Only a week ago, an international task force arrested eight people in Jamaica and seized expensive cars, jewelry, television sets, and $150,000 in cash, all taken from American citizens through the lottery rip-off calls.
Conservative estimates put the yearly Jamaican rip-off at $300 million, up from about $30 million in 2009. A U.S. Federal Trade Commission official says that could be as much as $1 billion a year.
Were issuing this warning to everyone, because each person, friend, family member or loved one must make an effort to stop these fraudulent calls from getting through.
Many but not all calls come from Jamaicas 876 telephone code, Fawley says. It is easy to spoof whatever number you want to show up on caller ID.
The Better Business Bureau is asking family members and friends to look for the warning signs of secrecy, cash wire transfers and excessive phone bills.
If you notice somethings not right, take action. Plan an intervention to show the family member, friend or loved one every dime theyve spent to collect the winnings is gone, never to be seen again. There is no Jamaican lottery, no jackpot and no pot of money under the Caribbean rainbow.
Signs to watch for:
New accounts being opened secretly.
Large wire transfers to either Jamaica or people in other states.
Deception on the victims part to hide their activities.
Numerous phone calls from out-of-state numbers or from other countries.
Mailed letters notifying of lottery winnings. Some victims receive 30 per week.
Increase in mailing or shipping items, which would be cash or other means to forward funds.
Increase in receiving packages that would contain funds.
The key to helping victims is making them aware of the situation that has entangled them and take steps to stop the victim from sending additional money.
The BBB recently interviewed a scam caller. His thick accent made the conversation difficult. He said he personally flies into Idaho every week to distribute the winnings. He was not able to identify any towns where he had landed his jet.
He was very cheerful in his approach and said he is glad to be giving out these winnings to Americans. He said he wanted to become a Better Business Bureau member, so everyone would be able to receive these winnings.
The scammer tells the victim anything to tease them into sending money.
Fawley also talked with a fraudster and even identified himself as a police detective. Fawley said the fraudster said he would come to Fawleys office and meet with him to make sure the winnings were delivered.
Robb Hicken: 947-2115