In a shopping center parking lot near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a 71-year-old woman was recently relieved of $15,000 — and was also robbed of her purse and beaten.
Outside a Silicon Valley bank, the cost to a 78-year-old man was $8,800.
And in Fairfax, Va., at least four victims have come forward with similar stories of ripped-off money. Police suspect there are others too embarrassed to report what happened.
They were all new victims of an old confidence game, which goes something like this:
You're approached in a busy parking lot by someone claiming to be holding a winning state lottery ticket. See? You're shown the card.
The numbers are sometimes verified as winners by a passerby — in reality, an accomplice — who claims to have seen the specific sequence on TV or to have the lottery commission's number on cellphone speed dial. The accomplice calls and confirms the number for you.
Problem is, the ticket holder says, I'm not legally in the U.S. (the home country claimed may vary). I have no Social Security card or driver's license so I can't go claim the prize.
But if you help, you're told, you'll be rich.
This scam, historically a summertime ruse and aimed at older people, has found renewed life in the current holiday shopping season. The cases mentioned above, probably just the tip of the iceberg, have mostly occurred since Black Friday.
For a fraction of the ticket's payout, your new friend now offers to sell you the ticket — or, after you make an upfront investment, to split the proceeds with you. "We'll even drive together to the convenience store where I bought it … right after we stop at your bank for your withdrawal," suggests the scammer.
You can guess how the story ends. Once you hand over the money, the supposed ticket holder (and accomplice, if any) flees with the loot.
As the Fort Lauderdale case showed, sometimes a physical beating is added to the damage to the victim's bank account.
So at a time when this scam seems to be on the rebound, the advice remains the same: Remember what Mom said about talking to strangers — especially when they claim to be lottery winners with a need to share.
Also of interest: Don't get hooked by a phishing expedition. >>
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.