'Jamaican lottery scam' can turn violent, take toll on elderly

'Jamaican lottery scam' can turn violent, take toll on elderly »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. – The list of scams targeting folks in our area is long. At the top of the list, postal inspectors say, is the Jamaican scam.

This scam – very active in our area – starts with a letter from Publishers Clearinghouse announcing you’ve won a sweepstakes.

From there, it unravels: the Jamaica-based scammers use a series of tricks, threats and harassing phone calls to get your money.

The scammers use some relentless ruses, said U.S. Postal Service Inspector Kevin Redden.

“...They’ll describe the victims’ house to them. And they’ll tell them that if they don’t send this money, they’ll come and burn their house down, or they’re going to rape their grandchildren or kill their wife and family,” Redden said.

The inspector says the Jamaican scam has had an exceptional toll on some folks. Recently, two local residents lost about $500,000 a piece, which was their life savings.

Gene Collins of Hillsboro didn’t lose as much as a half million, but he did lose his savings. It started when he ordered a gadget from Publishers Clearinghouse along with other items. He believed every order entered him into a sweepstakes.

That’s when Collins received a letter that he had won the sweepstakes. The only hitch: He had to send $18,000 to receive the $600,000 award.

It “just destroyed my savings account and it destroyed my checking account,” Collins said.

Collins said it was the constant pestering that confused him into handing over his money.

“They’re very persistent. They wear people out. They tire people out,” he said. “They confuse them.”

Redden said older folks, like 81-year-old Collins, are more at risk. The scammers manipulate them easily by preying on their loneliness by pretending to be their friends and then turning violent.

There are things that family members of elderly folks can do. Does the older person have a large stack of mail? They often get on lists and get tons of requests for money.

Are they tired or overwhelmed? The scammers often harass the elderly folks with calls all day long.

And are they withdrawing from family? The scammers often claim the victims’ families are out to get their money, so they must keep it a secret.