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Retiree Drains Her Bank Account in a Lottery Scam

Investigators work to find the criminals and discover another scam operation

spinner image The Perfect Scam Episode 37: The Lottery Scam that Almost Turned Deadly

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spinner image Quote graphic text: "It's the type of fraud where you literally need no infrastructure - You need nothing more than a telephone to carry out this scam"
Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Will: This week on AARP - The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:03] Brian Witt: It's the type of fraud where you literally need no infrastructure, you need nothing more than a telephone to be able to conduct it. And they literally have the belief than an armored car is going to pull up in the front of their home carrying their 8 million dollars.

[00:00:14] Will: For AARP - The Perfect Scam, I'm Will Johnson. Welcome back to a new round of stories. We'll be digging into robocalls, scams targeting servicemen and women, a psychic scam, and even a scam that almost, almost turns deadly. And we couldn't do all this without our AARP Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale. Frank, welcome back. It's good to see you once again.

[00:00:34] Frank Abagnale: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:36] Will: Frank, I know you're always busy looking at scams, helping people out. What have you been up to? Well, for one, I know you've written a book.

[00:00:42] Frank Abagnale: Yeah, it's another book, my fifth book, and this one is, is called "Scam Me If You Can." I didn't pick the title, the publisher did. But basically, I tried to, in this book, look at every conceivable scam that we know of and how they work, make it very easy for people to understand what the words people say over the phone, the things people do, so that they read the book, and they pick up all these scams; when they get that call, they get that email, they get that letter, they'll recognize it for what it is, a scam. And I took into consideration not only seniors, but people who invest in the stock market, bit coins, cybercurrency, all of the scams that are going on right now and bringing the book very much up to date. It's kind of a reference book that not only once you read it, but you're able to turn around and go look things up if you forgot about it or you need to understand how a scam works, a romance scam, or whatever it might be. The book is published by Random House.

[00:01:38] Will: Well, as listeners to our show know, you have an encyclopedic knowledge of scams and how to look out for them and what to do if you're scammed, and I have to ask, how do you go about on a regular basis staying on top of all this? Is it just reading, researching, talking to people?

[00:01:53] Frank Abagnale: Talking to people, you know, of course being, teaching at the FBI Academy for so many years; all the agents that are out in the field, if they think there's something I may not know or it's a new scam, they call me about it. My own clients who are people like Lexus Nexus and Experian and Intuit, obviously their customers, millions of them have scams perpetrated against them. Their businesses they represent have scams perpetrated against them, and I read a lot. So if I pick up on the news this morning some scam that occurred that is unusual and I haven't heard about it, I usually immediately, put that into my program. I send it off to AARP as well in case they haven't seen it, say, hey, here's a new scam, so that they understand it, but it's just amazing to me that every day there is a new scam. Every day there's some other scam and sometimes they're based on something that might be in the news, for example, when they, as we know, when they started issuing new Medicare cards, they did it by region, so the scam artists started calling places that hadn't received the Medicare cards yet, and then telling people, "Have you received your new Medicare card?" "Uh, no, I've heard about it, but I haven't received it." "Well, have you paid the fee?" "Oh, I didn't know there was a fee." "Yeah, there's a $35 fee." "Oh, well how do I pay that?" "Well, you give me a credit card number, we'll get your new Medicare card off to you." So that was just based on something they read in the news that these cards are being distributed but they were done by region because they couldn't do them all at one time. So some scam artist said, well, let's create a scam based around that.

[00:03:21] Will: Well, and if you want to learn more about the book and how you can, in fact, get a chapter for free if you're an AARP member, you can log into, check out Frank's new book and look for it on Amazon. It's available at the end of summer as well, or you can preorder it.

[00:03:38] Frank Abagnale: Yes.

[00:03:38] Will: And of course, Frank has had a long career with the FBI. If you are not familiar with Frank's story before his years in the FBI, I shouldn't have to say this by now, but people can watch the movie Catch Me If You Can, right?

[00:03:48] Frank Abagnale: Yes. Absolutely.

[00:03:49] Will: Alright, Frank, well let's get into today's episode, and we're focusing on scams that originate in Jamaica. And have you been to Jamaica?

[00:03:57] Frank Abagnale: Been to Jamaica a few times, yes.

[00:03:58] Will: It's a lovely, beautiful island, and you might think about beaches, warm water, the music, the culture, but you might not think about lottery scams.

[00:04:07] Frank Abagnale: No.

[00:04:08] Will: Now just to be clear, scam artists are everywhere, around the world and here at home in the US. But the issue has become a big enough problem in Jamaica that the United States Federal Government has created a multi-agency task force called JOLT, Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing. The task force was formed in 2009 by the Department of Homeland Security and the Jamaica Constabulary Force and collaborates with the FBI, the US Postal Inspection Service, and other federal agencies. And postal inspectors are especially dedicated to the cause, devoting manpower and resources and securing several convictions. In fact, the US Embassy in Jamaica is the only one in the world with a United States Postal Inspection Service Office dedicated to fighting scams. But why Jamaica? What's made it a hot bed for lottery scammers to thrive? Dominic Reilly has been with the United States Postal Inspection Service for 12 years, and is now the country attaché in Jamaica, meaning he's the liaison between the USPIS and Jamaican authorities.

[00:05:07] Dominic Reilly: Well it started back when Jamaica opened up their communication technology, so they started getting these call centers in Jamaica, and I believe it was in probably the early 2000s, maybe 2003 or so, and they started to train people in the service industry and call centers and being able to talk to people about buying different things, how to purchase sales, or just basic call center servicing. So then someone got the idea to tell someone that they won the lottery, and it just started to blossom from there.

[00:05:44] Will: Part of Dominic's assignment in Jamaica is to do community service and to speak with kids at schools.

[00:05:50] Dominic Reilly: One of the main things that they say that they would like to be other than Usain Bolt or some type of track star or a artist is a scammer.

[00:06:02] Will: And they'll come right out and say that to you?

[00:06:03] Dominic Reilly: Yes. It's glorified in, in some of the new songs. We had a song back a few years ago that talked about scamming and reparations and that's kind of what they feel is, is this is what they're going to be getting is some type of reparations or, or some type of a Robin Hood mentality. So you're taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, and, and it's just something that's going on right now.

[00:06:29] Will: The scam industry in Jamaica has become a real problem, and victims in the US are paying the price, a huge price. The FTC estimates that the price could be more than a billion dollars a year, and when scam victims see their life savings disappear, the impact can be devastating.

[00:06:45] Dominic Reilly: I mean we have people who have, I mean literally lost every cent that they have and they, they find that they're in a hopeless situation, and then they unfortunately take their own lives.

[00:06:57] Will: Dominic knows of six cases of suicide tied to lottery scams. There's even the case of a woman who was tied up in a scam and actually traveled to Jamaica.

[00:07:05] Dominic Reilly: She decided she'd come over to Jamaica and within a little bit of time, she was, she was killed.

[00:07:12] Will: Of course, that's an extreme case, but this week's story is also extreme. It shows you the mental anguish that scams can instill; the terrifying degree of deception that can throw reason out the door and lead some scam victims to consider doing the unthinkable. Brian Witt has worked for the United States Postal Inspection Service for almost 24 years. He's investigated crimes of all shapes and sizes.

[00:07:33] Brian Witt: I've been able to work crimes that included narcotics trafficking, money laundering, all manner of different violent crimes relating to the Postal Service, and then significant fraud; both securities fraud and consumer fraud, and most recently with the focus, the consumer fraud has also expanded to include the elder exploitation fraud which has long been a focus of the Postal Inspection Service.

[00:07:55] Will: As part of his work as a Postal Inspector, JOLT scams come across his desk frequently.

[00:07:59] Brian Witt: I've literally investigated more than 100 various JOLT victims and JOLT offenses involving various lottery losses, schemes. In Jamaica, we've developed entire groups and organizations that are operating from there, and for years, operated with relative impunity where they were able to target the elderly and consumers in the US.

[00:08:19] Will: What are the conditions that make that something that happens with, in Jamaica? I mean the economic reality for a lot of people.

[00:08:26] Brian Witt: Certainly.

[00:08:26] Will: Are there laws in place that protect them or...

[00:08:28] Brian Witt: Well actually it's a number of things, and I mean I'm glad you brought that up. It's a number of things that actually did enabled them to do that. First and foremost, it's the fact that the crimes they're committing are not centered in their own jurisdiction, but rather a foreign entity; the United States and others, and it's a fact that in many of those cases despite the efforts of our law enforcement partners, they're, the problem and the magnitude of it are beyond their reach. Certainly there's an element of corruption there as well where with that type of corruption it can be very difficult to have local law enforcement onsite take action against them, and at the end of the day, the crimes that they're committing are funneling millions and millions and millions of dollars back into the local economy, and into the hands of those conspirators.

[00:09:10] Will: So the money that's being taken unlawfully is then going back into more criminal activity.

[00:09:15] Brian Witt: Certainly. That money is being funneled right back to promote the offenses and continue that, but also enabling the perpetrators to live lavish lifestyles there.

[00:09:23] Will: And like a lot of scams, JOLT scams have people at the bottom and at the top.

[00:09:27] Brian Witt: Our investigations have clearly shown, clearly that these groups are actually set up, even if they're loosely organized, there's a clear definitive organization there where they'll have a leader, someone who's receiving the lion's share of the proceeds, but then under that, you'll have countless numbers of individuals that they're able to employ to make these calls.

[00:09:47] Will: Do you find that in certain parts of the world where there are call centers, some of them are brought in, some of the employees, if you'll call it that, are brought in legitimately, at least as far as they're concerned, they think they're part of a call service or something. Does that happen with this, or is this sort of like, you know come on in, this is, this is criminal activity from the get-go?

[00:10:04] Brian Witt: No, our, our investigations have clearly shown there's no element of this that rings true as having any legitimacy whatsoever, and the perpetrators and the people that are employed to do this, do so knowing that. And in, in review of the investigations, the claims that they make, oftentimes the threats that they make, certainly indemnify or exemplify that, that commitment to the fraud and knowledge of the fraud.

[00:10:28] Will: And to make these scams successful, JOLT scammers have developed complicated networks to move funds from victims in the US into Jamaica.

[00:10:34] Brian Witt: I've seen as much as 40,000 dollars, for example, in a, in a single uh box where they were sending it from a single victim, and that moved across hands of about four or five different victims before ultimately it got to a victim who was able to successfully get it out of the country by wiring it out. Everyone in that chain is a victim. Everyone in that chain in the United States either is, or has been, victimized by the scheme, it's just that Jamaicans utilize them to be able to get the funds out of the country.

[00:11:05] Will: So if I'm that person then in Chicago that's getting say, let's just make something up; $2000 from somebody in Austin, that money comes to me, what have I been told about that money and why am I then sending it to Jamaica?

[00:11:17] Brian Witt: So we could have victim A in Austin who's been contacted on the telephone, and he or she's been told that they've won a sweepstakes and they need to send $2000 to the attorneys for to pay the fees. That's a common statement that they're advised of. So they'll pay, place $2000 in cash, and they're going to place that in an envelope, and they're going to send it to an individual in Chicago. That individual in Chicago, we have found time and time and time again, is actually someone who was a former victim of the exact same scheme, who was often completely bilked out of all the money that they had, in other words, they had nothing left to give the Jamaican fraudsters, and that's not enough. At that point, the Jamaican fraudsters continue to use them, and they will tell that individual in Chicago, "Good news, we have sponsors from around the country who want to help you pay your fees, and they're going to send you the money to pay your fees so that you can send it to us." And so you see the individual in Austin sends their money to the individual in Chicago, believing that they're going to claim their prize. The individual in Chicago, when they receive that $2000 has been told that this money's coming from some would be benefactor or sponsor that wants to help them claim their prize, and then that individual in Chicago then would wire the funds to Jamaica believing that these funds came from a sponsor.

[00:12:37] Will: As you can tell, Brian Witt knows a lot about these scams, but one in particular stays with him and not just because of the amount of money lost.

[00:12:44] Brian Witt: But it really showed me the amount of control that the fraudsters, that the criminals are able to assert over elderly or vulnerable people. The amount of control that they're able to exert and their ability to get people to do something that they would not otherwise normally do, and I think this case just exemplified that. It's almost frightening the extent that they're able to control people's action.

[00:13:06] Will: This story begins in September 2017. Brian Witt is called to a retirement community in Georgetown, Texas, a suburb of Austin.

[00:13:14] Brian Witt: I was actually notified because we had obtained information from one of our sources in Jamaica that there was a couple living there, in their 70s, who had been substantially victimized and had sent a large amount of money to Jamaica over a period of about 6 months.

[00:13:28] Will: Brian learns that the couple might have lost almost $40,000. As time went on, he learned that the losses were even more staggering.

[00:13:35] Brian Witt: So my purpose in responding that day was actually to make contact with that couple and to be able to 1) initiate the investigation, and 2) make sure that they were getting the appropriate response or help that they needed as victims.

[00:13:47] Will: Brian shows up at the couple's home. The husband and wife are in their mid-70s, married for over 50 years. But when he arrives, he sees there's a moving truck parked in front of the house.

[00:13:57] Brian Witt: All of their belongings were being moved out.

[00:13:59] Will: Unbeknownst to you...

[00:14:00] Brian Witt: Unbeknownst to me. Again, I was responding because our agency had developed intelligence from some financial records that it appeared, they may have lost as much as $40,000. Upon arriving at the house, what I found was a situation that was much worse. I found that these individuals had been forced to sell their home, that a home which they had owned free and clear that was worth several hundred thousand dollars, they were, in the end, in selling it, were waiting on their last $30,000 in equity. They had liquidated all the other equity that they had in the home. Again, this was their retirement home. This was a home which two, three years prior to that, they had owned outright. And so now, here they are, liquidating this home; they're being forced to sell it because they're in debt on every credit instrument that they have, and they're down to their last $30,000 in, in equity. And when I arrived, they literally did not know where they were going to be staying the following day once they closed on the home.

[00:14:56] Will: Brian is coming across the scene of a scam that he'll never forget. The moving truck is just the first sign that things are really spinning out of control. He knocks on the door and is met with a degree of skepticism he's grown used to.

[00:15:08] Brian Witt: When I show up on scene, you know, obviously flesh and blood human being, I'm in an unmarked federal law enforcement vehicle. I'm carrying a badge and a gun, handcuffs. And what I find time and time again is the people that have been victimized by these schemes are so skeptical of me and my claims that you've been victimized, you've been sending money, we'd like to speak to you about that, they're so skeptical of me and my knowledge of that, and, and the amount of skepticism that they exhibit is, is, I mean time and time again I've just seen them exhibit that time and time again. And so, consequently it amazes me though that they will believe someone on the phone that's nothing more than a voice on the phone who tells them, based on a cold call, that they've won some amount of money, and that they need to give up substantial amounts of money and pay substantial amounts of money to claim that. And that's nothing more than a voice on the phone. Just a voice on the phone. And that individual gains their trust and they believe that individual, but yet someone who shows up at their front door, a living breathing human being, badge and a gun, law enforcement vehicle, and yet they're skeptical of that. And, and to me that really shows the power of these fraudsters and scammers and their ability to really make that human connection over the phone with these individuals.

[00:16:30] Will: But Brian is eventually invited in, and he begins to learn firsthand how the couple got to this point. Like many victims, it starts out with a cold call.

[00:16:38] Brian Witt: So they get a call telling them that they had won approximately 8 million dollars in an offshore lottery, specifically Jamaican lottery, that they had won also a number of cash and prizes, and that all they had to do is pay fees to the, for the attorneys and customs fees, and what started out as a few thousand dollars that they were supposed to pay, as the criminal element or the fraudsters often do, they kept sponging them along and over a period of time, approximately 18 months, this couple lost $246,000.

[00:17:08] Will: Taxes and payments they needed to make in order to collect their winnings.

[00:17:12] Brian Witt: Right. In the end, this couple paid $246,000 that we know of today, $246,000 and the way that the Jamaicans got that from them was literally $2000 here, $5000 there, and it was always with the promise of, oh, a new fee came up, we just have to pay this fee, or we just have to pay this custom's fee. We have to pay the attorney, but it's always with that carrot that's dangling saying, oh, if we just take care of this one more thing, then we're going to be able to get you your $8 million, and they literally have the belief that an armored car is going to pull up in the front of their home carrying their $8 million.

[00:17:48] Will: But as you can imagine, when a scam goes on for a year and a half, the calls to the victims, and in this case, the wife, are numerous, sometimes calls that come in multiple times in one day. And over time a relationship develops, but in this case, not just a friendship.

[00:18:03] Brian Witt: The wife had spoken so much with the fraudster in Jamaica, that she had developed a romantic relationship with him, all over the phone, and this was very open, even with the husband, it wasn't behind his back or anything, it was with his full knowledge. They had been married 50 years, in excess of 50 years, and so, in addition to being uh taken for $246,000, the wife had a substantial romantic interest in the individual who was defrauding them. He was telling her that he was building a beach house for them, that he wanted her to relocate to Jamaica, that she just needed to be able to help him by sending more and more money to build that beach house.

[00:18:45] Will: What had started as a lottery scam evolves, and now the wife is caught up in not just the promise of money coming in, but a newfound love interest, and even a new life in Jamaica.

[00:18:54] Brian Witt: But I think that that again is a testament to the ability of the Jamaican fraudster just to be able to read the people that they're speaking to, to be able to see those vulnerabilities, to be able to attack those. And in this case, I believe that the, the criminal element in Jamaica, they were able to quickly ascertain that not only were they able to propagate the lottery fraud, but that she was open to pursuing the romance scam.

[00:19:18] Will: And did the romance scam include her sending money to him above and beyond the $246,000?

[00:19:23] Brian Witt: It did. It did. And in particularly what it enabled them to do was, when there would be times where the husband who was somewhat lucid, whenever he would attempt to make a stand, if you will, and say no more, we're not sending anymore, it was actually the wife's close personal tie that would then persuade him or uh, be the basis of encouragement, or then she would continue to send it even without his knowledge.

[00:19:47] Will: The couple had made attempts to put an end to the calls, to get their life back, but the scammers were relentless, and the wife was living in an alternate reality.

[00:19:55] Brian Witt: I can't tell you how many times over that 18 months they had changed their phone numbers. But, because of that romance element with the wife, even when they successfully changed their number and believed that they may have been able to cut ties, she was actually reaching back out to the offenders in Jamaica.

[00:20:14] Will: Was it one person in particular then that she, I mean obviously it was a romance scam, that she was talking to?

[00:20:19] Brian Witt: Correct. Over the course of the scheme, they spoke to multiple people who were reportedly in various roles; attorneys, federal officials, etc., but in terms of the romance scam and their primary point of contact, yes, it was with the same individual.

[00:20:32] Will: The scammers had literally been playing the couple against each other for 18 months, and it was working.

[00:20:38] Brian Witt: So certainly the husband had been victimized; he had gone along with the lottery scheme for some time. Their last $30,000 that was coming out of the closing of this home was going to be going at the end of the closing process, it was going to go into their bank account like it would with many of us if we were closing on a home. And his intent was to take that $30,000 and then be able to relocate to where their adult children lived on the East Coast. A wise decision. However, what he didn't know, and that I found out during my interview with them, is the wife had already provided the debit card, she had already mailed the debit card to the offenders in Jamaica. She had already given the offenders in Jamaica all of the access information to be able to access their bank accounts.

[00:21:20] Will: Brian has to move quickly. He and the husband go to their bank.

[00:21:23] Brian Witt: And there, we were not able to stop the closing obviously, but what we did do was freeze their bank account so that the $30,000 that they were due was not going to be wired directly into their bank account where it could just be withdrawn by the fraudsters. Instead, what we did was we arranged for that to come to them in the form of a cashier's check, something that ostensibly the fraudsters wouldn't be able to, to get to.

[00:21:45] Will: So the $30,000 is safe, it appeared, but Brian's job was not over.

[00:21:50] Brian Witt: Before leaving that day, I, as I often do, I literally spent countless minutes going over with them with detail; you understand this is a fraud? Here's all the elements that demonstrate this is a fraud, and as they often do, they agreed with me point on point on point. Yes, this is a fraud. Yes, this is a fraud. The wife agreed with me that, that yes, she was, this romance scam was being used to control her. She had never met this individual. She was purporting her love for him and yet, he was just a voice on the phone. She agreed with me that they were being defrauded, and I say all this to show you the power of the scheme. So when I left there that evening, I had already set them up to have victim witness coordinators reach out to them, to get them the help that they needed. We had stopped their final $30,000 from being withdrawn, and I believed at that point in time that that was going to be the end of this particular investigation.

[00:22:39] Will: So you have all the machinery in place, if you will, to, to make sure that it does come to an end, but in the back of your head, you think well, who knows?

[00:22:46] Brian Witt: Correct, because oftentimes I've found, and most of my uh counterparts would agree, we found that even after intercepting money, returning it to a victim, even after visiting a victim and explaining to them in detail that this is a fraud, even after having that victim agree countless and countless times that this is a fraud, we find that those victims will turn right around in a short period of time and be convinced to send the money out anyway. Or they'll send it, not through the US Mail, but through another service that the Jamaicans will direct them to use it, because they know it was intercepted previously. And again, that speaks to the level of control that the fraudsters, the criminal element, it speaks to the element of control that they're able to gain just from the phone.

[00:23:28] Will: But the next chapter in this story will truly shock you. The control the scammers have over the wife, the never-ending burrowing into their lives; it's far from over. And the next time Brian would see the couple, would be under far more dire circumstances.

[00:23:41] Brian Witt: So the next day I received an urgent phone call from one of my counterparts who advised that we had developed information and intelligence from a source in Jamaica that the Jamaicans were encouraging or trying to, or I should say directing, that the Jamaicans were directing the wife to kill her husband.


[00:24:03] Will: So Frank, we will come back next week with part 2 of our story, but gosh, what a harrowing story. It's clearly unique, oftentimes, or most of the time you would hope that a scam would never go this far, and we'll hear more about what happens.

[00:24:16] Frank Abagnale: You know, sometimes scam artists when they are just basically out searching for a victim, they tend to get someone on the phone and through conversations, and like this case, went on for several months, they start to realize this person may have some difficulty understanding, they may be going through a memory loss, dementia, and so then that brings on the even more ability for them to scam the person, and they come up with even more elaborate things knowing that this person won't rationalize that that's not possible or that can't be true. So we look at all these things and go, how can anyone ever fall for that or continue to fall for that? But we're looking at it in our own mind. We're not looking at it in the mind of the person who actually gets involved. And as I tell people, just like romance scams, they go on for months because they're doing several victims. It's not just this one person they're concentrating on; they might have 12 people there carrying this scam on with, and they're just going back to their notes to the next person they left off, and come back to that person, and so you know, to them uh, they pick up certain things about people and see how far they can carry it with those people, and how much they'll get by with those people, and you know, this is why we always say, you have to make sure that you know, first of all, you didn't join a lottery, you didn't go into a lottery, you couldn't have won a lottery. Second, you do have to be careful with calls that come out of Jamaica and Nigeria. Obviously, there's a select few of people that in those countries that run scams, and we see more of them than we do other places. So obviously, we're a little more careful of why we look at certain places, because that's where the abundance of a lot of those, uh scams come out.

[00:25:57] Will: But it's certainly also brings up the point that while we are talking about these JOLT scams as they are called, the scammers operate all over the place; it could be in your own backyard, hopefully not in your own backyard, but at least it could be the house next door.

[00:26:13] Frank Abagnale: But they're everywhere. We know that they're, we know that there are boiler centers down in Florida, we know there's scammers up in Canada, we know they're in China and Hong Kong and India, Russia; they're all over the world.

[00:26:23] Will: And I do want to come back to the point you made about the fact that this scammer just saw another door open with this woman. It started as a lottery scam and then clearly saw the opportunity to turn this into what really develops into a romance scam where he's offering and promising her all sorts of wonderful things. And, and we can't get into her mind or understand what was going on in their relationship with her husband or anything, but we do know at the very least that this scammer was clearly very talented at opening that door and staying in her life.

[00:26:55] Frank Abagnale: Absolutely. And, and the more information you give the scammer, the more they get to know you on the phone, then all these ideas come up for the scammer, it just escalates, so yes, it starts out that I'm just going to swindle this woman on a lottery scam, but then he realizes, well, here's an easy target. She doesn't really understand what's going on. So I'll move this into a romance scam, and when he sees the first payments are made and that works, then he moves onto a more elaborate romance scam, uh so it just goes on and on. And this is why I always tell people, you need to share that with someone so that they can work through it with you and say, look, this can't be real. This is not correct, or that person can report it to the necessary authorities. If you just keep it to yourself, and you think it should just be between you and that person on the phone, and you start sending that person money, you're going to lose your money and you're going to get scammed.

[00:27:47] Will: Alright, Frank. We will return next week with part 2 of this story, and the lottery scam turned romance scam turned something possibly much, much worse.

[00:27:57] Will: If you or someone you know has been the victim of a fraud or scam, call AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. As always, thanks to my team of scambusters, producers Julie Getz and Brook Ellis, our audio engineer, Julio Gonzales, and of course, my cohost Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. For The Perfect Scam, I'm Will Johnson.


A woman in a Texas suburb is enjoying her retirement years with her husband when she gets a call that will change their lives. According to the voice on the phone, she’s won an overseas lottery. Millions of dollars and a new luxury car will be delivered to her front door. But before she can collect the cash and other prizes, she must send money to the man on the phone. At first, she’s told she needs to pay taxes, then lawyers’ fees. As the demands to send cash mount, her bank account is drained. Nine months later, the couple has lost everything and is forced to sell their home.

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Lottery scams are on the rise in the U.S., with more than a half-million complaints in North America in the past three years. The island nation of Jamaica is a hotbed for this criminal activity. To combat this growing issue, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, along with other U.S. agencies, are dedicating resources to shut down lottery scams. One postal inspector came across a scammer’s financial trail that led back to the Texas couple who’d been drawn in by a lottery scam. When the inspector arrived in Texas, he couldn’t believe what he found: Not only had the scammer drained the couple’s savings, but he had also been operating a romance scam — with the woman as his target.

TIPS:  If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam or would like to report fraud call The Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360Anyone can become the victim of a scam, it’s important to be vigilant and know your vulnerabilities. For instance, if you are looking for a job you are more vulnerable to a work-at-home scam.

The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.


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