Win against fraud with these 4 approaches

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

The Jamaican lottery scam is alive and well.

In the past two weeks, the Department of Justice has announced a jail sentence and an arrest related to such schemes, which officials say often prey on the elderly.

Feb. 17, the department announced, Felecia Roxanne Lindo, 33, was sentenced in the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina to 24 months in prison and three years of supervised release, and also was ordered to pay $292,900 in restitution, after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Lindo, a dual citizen of Jamaica and the United States, said that she was a member of a conspiracy that targeted victims in the United States for many months in 2011 and 2012. Victims of the scheme would receive a telephone call stating that they had won money in a sweepstakes or lottery, she said, and they were instructed to send money for fees or other expenses to release their purported winnings. Lindo said that the victims sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to her, and then she forwarded a portion of the money to Jamaica. She told officials that no lottery existed and no winnings existed, and she also admitted to keeping some the victims' money for herself.

Feb. 23, the Justice Department announced that Claude Shaw, 47, a Florida resident, was arrested and charged with two counts of mail fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud in connection with a lottery scheme also tied to Jamaica. In an arrangement similar to the one Lindo described in her case, Shaw's indictment alleges that the victims were instructed to send money to collect their “winnings” through wire transfers and the U.S. Postal Service to Shaw and others. Shaw allegedly then would send a portion of the victims' money to accomplices in Jamaica, but the victims never received any lottery winnings.

Earlier in the month, a U.S. resident living in Costa Rica (southwest of Jamaica) pleaded guilty for his actions in a $10 million sweepstakes scheme for which elderly U.S. residents were the target. You can read more about that case here.

The punishment is severe when those charged with such crimes are found to be guilty. If convicted of mail fraud or wire fraud, for instance, Shaw faces a statutory maximum term of 20 years in prison on each count. Criminals keep perpetrating the schemes because they are lucrative when they are successful, but U.S. authorities have stepped up their efforts to crack down on scammers.

Yes, for now, such schemes are alive and well.

“Sweepstakes scams” such as the Jamaican lottery generated the second-highest number of calls to the Senate Special Committee on Aging's Fraud Hotline from U.S. consumers in 2016, according to the committee's “Fighting Fraud” report, released Feb. 15. Such scams resulted in 124 calls of the 2,282 complaints made to the hotline (the No. 1 complaint, by far, involved IRS impersonation scams; read more here).

So what can you do to prevent your residents from falling victim to the Jamaican lottery scam and other scams?

  1. Hold programs such as the ones Touchmark Senior Living and Elmcroft Senior Living have held recently. KTVH.com reported that Touchmark on Saddle Drive in Helena, MT, invited representatives from the Montana State Auditor's office to discuss pyramid schemes, investment theft and Ponzi schemes with residents. And Elmcroft of Jackson in Tennessee hosted state Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, who talked about how scams circulate through such communities as part of his effort to meet with residents of retirement homes and assisted living communities, according to the Jackson Sun.
  2. Read the Senate Aging Committee's latest fraud report, which lists the top 10 scam-related complaints made to the committee's hotline and includes information on how to recognize, avoid and report scams. The report is available in PDF format; consider printing out several copies for your residents and their families or sharing the web address with them.
  3. Inform residents about the Federal Trade Commission's Pass It On campaign, which you may have read about here before. It's specifically designed to help older adults educate their peers about six types of fraud, including sweepstakes schemes. The FTC recommends that senior living communities host events during which staff members explain the Pass It On campaign and distribute materials to residents. The campaign website includes a video and information about each type of scam, but because older adults often prefer printed materials, the FTC also has prepared one-page articles and bookmarks that communities can print out or order in bulk quantities at no charge. People also can sign up for scam alert emails at the Pass It On website. For events, the commission also can provide communities with PowerPoint presentations as well as word find games and crossword puzzles related to each type of scam. Communities can incorporate information from the materials into their newsletters or post it on bulletin boards, because all of these materials are free and in the public domain. Or communities can simply place Pass It On materials in common areas.
  4. Share with residents how to report suspected fraud to local authorities; to the FTC (www.ftc.gov/complaint or 877-FTC-HELP) and to the Senate Aging Committee (855-303-9470 or www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline).

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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