December 2, 2012

Maine cop goes all out for victims of 'lotteries'

The York County officer works with FairPoint and others to end a crime that targets the elderly.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Scammer calls a victim

That's why phone scammers try to convince victims not to tell their families about the winnings, telling them they can surprise their families with the good news later.

Even when victims change their telephone numbers, more relentless scammers call neighbors, asking them to check on their target, and to bring them a phone so they can talk to them.

In one incident, scammers called a Sabattus woman on the day of her husband's funeral, King said.

In another case, scammers called the Ossippee, N.H. Police Department, feigning concern for their victim and asking that they check on the person, King said.

In other cases, police surmise scammers use Google Earth to find local landmarks as a way of convincing their victims that they are physically close to them, which can also serve as a way to intimidate victims.

FairPoint estimates the number of victims tops 86 in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and they've received at least 200 complaints from people who were called by scammers.

The utility has worked to spread the word, to educate potential victims and family members, creating a website, www.bewareof876.com, a reference to an area code that handles international calls.

"This thing is devastating to a family," Nevins said, noting that some victims have been hospitalized after falling victim, as well as losing much of their savings.

Jamaican officials estimate some $300 million per year is bilked from trusting elderly Americans by unscrupulous scammers, many based in the resort area of Montego Bay.

Ironically, the Jamaican government invested heavily in promoting call centers there as an economic development engine. Some Jamaicans have used their training in telephone sales techniques to sell the fraud of fake lottery winnings.

The government of the Caribbean island nation has identified what they call lotto scams as a major threat, essentially organized crime, embroiling their youth in a culture of thievery and violence.

"They have 15-year-old kids who are buying houses for their parents with all this money," King said.

Daily murders are blamed at least in part on the illicit enterprise, where rivals compete for territory and for the all important "suckers lists."

"Forty to 50 percent of murders and shootings in St. James are connected to lotto scam activity in one way or another," said Peter Bunting, minister of national security, during the Nov. 7 forum, which was recorded and posted online at: www.jnbs.com/lotteryscam/.

Christopher Tufton, co-executive director of the Caribbean Policy and Research Institute, told the forum that an estimated 30,000 calls a day emanate from Jamaica perpetrating the loan scam.

The government worries that the crime threatens its international reputation, both to prospective investors who might bring legitimate jobs to the island and to tourists, the vast majority of whom come from the United States.

At one point, police there rescued an American who had been lured to the island thinking he was going to claim his prize.

People in Jamaica think of phone scamming as a victimless crime, one reason King felt it was important to travel to Jamaica to share their stories.

"It's not just one person that's victimized. It's everybody," King said. "It's not just a person that's losing money. Now the families are involved," he said, adding that the victims can end up requiring costly public assistance as they get older.

Jamaican officials say they are working with banks and money transfer agencies like Western Union and MoneyGram to stop the fraudulent transfers.

But they can't shut down transfers entirely, because money sent home by the two million to three million Jamaicans living abroad is important to the economy.

Authorities in both countries say legislation could help in the battle.

Jamaican prosecutors want to be able to use video testimony so victims wouldn't need to go to Jamaica to testify. They also want laws that specifically prohibit advanced fee scams.

U.S. authorities want better extradition laws so people perpetrating the scams can be brought to justice in this country.

King said he wants more attention on the problem by federal authorities. In Jamaica, a U.S. customs agent and a postal inspector are the only ones working on it, he said.

"I understand there's a lot of issues (federal authorities) have to deal with," King said. "This is a compelling issue. This is threatening our seniors."

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

 

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