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Phone Scams Target the Elderly

March 3rd, 2014

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Think you or your loved ones are “too smart” to get scammed? Think again. Here’s a post from one of our attorneys:

“My elderly father was the victim of a particularly nefarious phone scam, run by an international crime group through a Jamaican call center. They prey on the frail elderly and convince them they have won a bunch of money and a Mercedes or similar luxury car (in his case, $4.5 million and a Mercedes). Then, they arrange for you to pay them taxes, shipping, and handling in order to retrieve the Mercedes they will deliver to your very house.

“Once an elderly person appears on their ‘vulnerable to scams’ list, as my Dad apparently has, then they are after you. If you don’t cough up the account numbers so they can clean out all your money electronically, they move from promises to threats of murder and violence against you and your family. I spent the entire weekend trying to block these criminals from harassing my Dad to no avail, including involving the local Sheriff’s Department, and had to ultimately change his phone number.

“In this case, and in many cases, it starts with a fake Publisher’s Clearing House award, and they get you to send in a $20 check to collect your prize, and then they move forward. You can google ‘Jamaican 876 scam’ for more details, but my point in sending this email is to alert you so you can warn elderly relatives and clients NOT to answer calls from this area code and NOT to give any information to anyone who calls from this area code.”

I know I’ve warned family members about this type of scam, but the scammers are very well trained and highly convincing. It doesn’t just happen to the elderly, but they are at greater risk because they often live alone, which means that they don’t have anyone immediately available to discuss the call with. They also often are lonely, and having a friendly voice on the phone is comforting. They want you to think of them as a friend, and then they rob you blind. Plus, if your elderly loved one is having memory problems, he may forget that money was already sent, forget your warnings about not falling for scams, forget to tell you about his new “friend” in Jamaica.

While the “Jamaican 876” scam isn’t the only one, it is the most current and prevalent. Now that most of us are wary about Nigerian princes who promise part of their royal inheritance, the Jamaican lottery scam is fresh.

Government Advice

The American Embassy in Jamaica says that it receives frequent inquiries from U.S. citizens who have been defrauded for hundreds and even thousands of dollars by Advance Fee Fraud scammers in Jamaica.  According to the Embassy, the most prevalent in Jamaica is the lottery scam, where scammers lead victims to believe they have won a drawing or lottery, but the cash or prizes will not be released without upfront payment of fees or taxes.  Scammers frequently target the elderly or those with disposable income.

Their advice:

If it is too good to be true, it is not true.  Do NOT believe that you have won a lottery you never entered.  It is illegal to play foreign lotteries from the United States.  Do NOT believe any offers (lottery, prize claim, inheritance, etc.) that require a fee to be paid up front.  Do NOT provide personal or financial information to individuals or businesses you don’t know or haven’t verified.  Do NOT send any money to someone you do not know.  Do NOT attempt to recover funds personally or travel to Jamaica to transfer money.

Check the following signs to see if you might be involved in a fraudulent lottery scheme:

  • You receive an unsolicited call, letter or email claiming that you have won a lottery or contest you never entered or that other individuals or businesses entered for you, and that you must pay fees or taxes to claim the prize
  • The caller indicates they are doing you a ‘service’ by allowing you to pay fees up front in order to avoid further hassles, taxes, paperwork, lawyers, etc.
  • The caller provides stories explaining the urgent need for more money, and finds creative ways for you to obtain and send money, including using ‘Green Dot’ cards, selling property, taking loans, etc.
  • A caller you do not know claims to know about your neighborhood, family, or personal situation
  • If funds are not submitted, the scammers may feign anger or make threats.  Threats include claims that they will report you to the IRS, to the police, or cause bodily harm.
  • Scammers may involve unwitting accomplices to contact you, including your friends, family, neighbors or local police
  • Scammers may subsequently pose as government officials or lawyers claiming that you must pay for their services to assist with your case, reclaim your scammed funds, or protect you from criminal prosecution.  Although the caller may claim to be in Jamaica, he or she may ask that the money be sent to an account in another country or to an accomplice in the U.S.  Alternatively, the scammer may state he or she is in a third country but request that funds be sent to the Jamaica.

If you think you have been a victim of a lottery scam, speak up and stop sending money.  Scammers are difficult to stop because most victims do not report the incident.  Report the matter immediately to the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov/ and also the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BIA), at www.ic3.gov.  You can also inform the U.S. Embassy in Kingston at KingstonACS@state.gov and contact the local police.  Stop all communication with the scammers – if their calls do not stop, attempt to block their calls or consider changing your phone number.