This week is National Consumer Protection Week, a fitting backdrop for a story I’ve been working on that has become deeply personal.
For years, I’ve heard stories from friends — mainly senior citizens — who have received stacks of suspicious mail promising riches from lotteries that no one has ever heard of. Some would even get phone calls saying they had won prize money. Clearly, there was a story here. But I had no idea how big it was.
For the past several months, my reporting team at my weekly newsmagazine program “Dan Rather Reports” (on AXS TV) and I have been digging into what what we’ve found to be a sophisticated web of scams that are international in scope.
Conservative estimates put the damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Victims can be found in every state of the union and the cost is not just financial, but emotional. These con artists are cowards who prey on some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
Jamaica has become ground zero for sophisticated scams that work like this: You get a notice in the mail or by phone that you have won millions of dollars in a lottery and maybe a new car. In order to receive your winnings, you just have to mail in a few small payments — taxes and processing fees. Responding to the scam is the equivalent of putting an “X” on your back, as one expert we talked to phrased it.
Your name is now on what is known as a “lead list” — a list so valuable that criminals have been known to kill other criminals to get it. Then the phone calls start coming. The voices on the other end often start out being very kind. They say they want to help you get your winnings and they want to know about you, your family, your living situation.
Fraud investigators tell me that the purpose of mining for all this personal information is so scammers can leverage your emotional weaknesses and vulnerabilities so they can manipulate your hopes and fears to get you to send them more money.
As long as you keep sending money, the calls will continue for months or even years. What they’re asking for never changes, just a few more fees and taxes — small dollar values that add up quickly. Often the victim becomes increasingly confused and scared. (We’ve heard phone calls and voicemail messages where the scammer becomes verbally abusive, terrifying elderly victims.)
The Jamaican lottery scam has been around for years and covered in local news reports and some national outlets. But when we talked to federal and local law enforcement in the United States, like Chief Deputy Bill King in Maine who has become a leading voice in exposing these crimes, we heard that this story has so many facets that it can’t be boiled down to few quick sound bites.
You needed to get into the psychology of this fraud. We heard something similar from advocates for the elderly who are leading the crusade to educate seniors across the country.
But to get to the heart of the scam, we needed to go to Jamaica. So in January, my reporting team and I headed to where local officials are more than a little wary of the press. They know they have a national image to protect, and that a reputation as the center for scamming American seniors would not be good for the tourism business.
Read Story Here: yahoonews.com