Jamaican lottery scam: How lucrative promises can ensnare the elderly

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Elderly Americans are increasingly falling victim to a scam so pervasive that U.S. government officials have had trouble stopping it. It is called the “Jamaican lottery scam.” In it, criminals lure people in with the promise of prizes and a huge payment — all for a series of fees.

One of the reasons the scam is so successful is because of the difficulty U.S. authorities face when trying to get suspected scammers extradited. The legal wrangling it takes to get things like signed witness statements, confessions from co-conspirators and affidavits can take its toll.

Jamaican lottery scam lures elderly people with promises of big payout

The sheer breadth of the Jamaican lottery scam was brought to the forefront recently when Department of Justice officials announced the conviction of a Rhode Island woman who was involved in such a scheme with a number of others.

“The scheme’s conspirators located in Jamaica purchased lists containing information about U.S. citizens, and contacted them over the phone,” DOJ officials said in a news release. “They told victims they had won large cash prizes and cars, but would need to pay taxes and fees in order to receive the prize. The scammers deliberately targeted victims over the age of 55.”

Some victims were bilked out of more than $100,000 after being assured that they were going to cash in on big money. DOJ officials said the scammers would even impersonate FBI and IRS authorities to falsely claim that the prize winnings were real.

Why do people fall for a scam?

You may be questioning the common sense of people that can be persuaded to send thousands of dollars to strangers, but that’s not the point. In many cases, elderly people may be feeling the intense pressure to take care of their grown children or grandchildren. That burden often puts them at risk.

In other cases, senior citizens live alone and isolated from family and other loved ones, making them especially susceptible to lottery solicitations.

3 telltale signs of a lottery or prize scam

  • They rush you to decide:  If you’re being pushed to take immediate action, beware. Scammers do this to get you to make an irrational decision and part with your money. Don’t do it.
  • Promises, promises: Be wary of callers claiming that you’ve won a prize or vacation package. Don’t fall for it.
  • Watch what you say: From the FTC: “Don’t say anything if a caller starts the call asking, ‘Can you hear me?’ This is a common tactic for scammers to record you saying ‘yes.’ Scammers record your ‘yes’ response to use as proof that you agreed to a purchase or credit card charge.”

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