Outrageous scam stories are sadly true

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on lottery scams and the vulnerability of seniors to this type of scheme – whether by phone, mail, or email. Since then, I have received more reports from victims. Community partners throughout the state have all mentioned an uptick in cases of lottery scams.

Just last month, I spoke with the daughter of a 91-year old woman who contacted Better Business Bureau with her mom’s story. It’s a heartbreaking story. She told me that her mom has sent a total of $20,000 to scammers. It all began with the scam artists claiming to be the IRS and that her mom owed money. When that didn’t work, they called back and said they were with “Publisher’s Clearing House.” As this scam normally works, the mom was told to send money for fees, taxes, etc. to obtain her millions of dollars in “winnings.”

I decided to call a few of my media contacts to report the increase in lottery scam victims. By pure coincidence, while the TV news reporter was in my office to do the interview, an elderly gentleman, Luther, came into our office to ask us about a lottery check he had received. His bank had refused to cash it, telling him it was a fake check. He didn’t believe his bank and brought it to us.

Of course, the letter and purported lottery check were not real. He told us that he had sent money previously on lotteries that he thought he won, but of course had never received his “winnings.” The reporter had a bona fide victim to interview right there and the story was on the 10 p.m. news that night.

A week later, Luther brought his most recent mail to me – another bunch of fraudulent enticements: a “check” for $789,986 from a so-called national advertising campaign (which, by the way, he had signed the “cash payment authorization” and was ready to mail); free gifts from Grandma Rosa, an Old Time Spiritualist who supposedly could help him add an extra $1,000 to his Social Security checks; a “treasury notice” to transfer $1,021,650 into his account for just $26; and a six-page letter from Sophros I, a “medium-clairvoyant specialist for visions regarding money” who, for $55, will send his sacred scarf of happiness and power and his aura-triastral number, which will help Luther win millions in the lottery. The list goes on and on. It almost sounds like a joke, but I’m not making any of this up.

What’s not funny is that Luther believed what the letters said. When I spoke to his daughter, Patty, she confirmed that her dad had sent money not only to these email schemes but to scammers who call on the phone. She told me they call constantly. She has had to change his phone number, but the calls continue because her dad calls the scammers with his new number.

According to The True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse ( https://www.truelinkfinancial.com/research ), seniors lose $36.48 billion each year to financial abuse.

Beth Goldstein, Supervising Attorney with the Office of Elder Fraud & Assistance for the State of Alaska, confirmed that there has been a definite increase in reported lottery scams with seniors. These reports come into her office from banks, police officers, investment company regulatory attorneys and, sometimes, from adult children.

These scammers are relentless about calling, sometimes 10 to 20 times a day. They wear down vulnerable victims. And often, once the victim is out of money, the scammers will threaten them with bodily harm if they don’t continue to pay. Luther’s daughter, Patty, told me the caller told her they were outside and would shoot her.

Goldstein told me of a case where a senior victim’s phone number was changed by her family but the scammer called the victim’s neighbor, expressed concern for her health, and asked the neighbor to check on her and call them back with the new phone number.

Adult children and other family members often don’t know where to go for help. Goldstein told me that family members can call the phone company to block incoming and/or outgoing numbers.

The Attorney General’s office can request that a fraud victim be blocked from wiring money. The Office of Elder Fraud and Assistance can file a Financial Abuse Petition for Protection from financial exploitation (lasting 20 days) on behalf of seniors over age 60. Banks can then withhold funds.

If necessary, the Elder Fraud office can also obtain a long term order lasting six months, which should be enough time for the adult children to become involved.

If you have a family member who has been a victim, you can call the Elder Fraud and Assistance Office at 907-334-5989 or the Alaska Department of Law Consumer Protection Unit at 907-269-5200. Also contact your local Better Business Bureau office at 907-562-0704 to report the experience.

Michelle Tabler is the Alaska regional manager for the Better Business Bureau.