Investigators from Jamaica Constabulary Force and finance ministry travelled to Canada to interview the woman.
An 80-year-old Hamilton woman scammed out of more than $100,000 in a fake lottery fraud goes to police. Hamilton police trace the money overseas. This is, unfortunately, usually where the story ends.
But not in this case. In a highly unusual step, police from Jamaica Constabulary Force and a civilian forensic examiner from the Financial Investigations Division of Jamaica’s finance ministry travelled to Canada to interview the woman.
The 80-year-old, who the Spectator has agreed not to name for privacy, said the calls began several years ago and at first she didn’t believe what the caller was telling her — that she had won a car and $2.5 million in an American lottery.
She never applied for that lottery and demanded the caller prove it. They kept calling back with more and more details. The caller ID showed the country code for Jamaica, when the woman asked why, she said she was told it was easier to convert funds there. But there was one small catch — she needed to pay the tax upfront to get her winnings. “They were very persistent,” the woman said, sitting at Hamilton police headquarters.
Despite her skepticism, the woman agreed and started sending cash and other items. It was a scam. In all, she sent more than $100,000 in cash and kind. The woman said she wanted to share her story with the hope that no one else will go through what she has.
On Monday, the woman met with police from Jamaica. Det. Cpl. Errol Greenland of the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s major organized crime and anti-corruption agency (MOCA) said they are aware of at least five victims, maybe more, in this particular lottery scam. But this is the first time they’ve travelled to Canada for this case.
Det. Const. Ian Cottee of the Hamilton police crimes against seniors unit said it’s very rare to have police from an international police service come here for a fraud case. He investigated the case on the Hamilton side, tracing the money to see that it was sent internationally. From there Hamilton police contacted RCMP and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, and then it’s out of their hands. Too often this means cases go nowhere.
But not here. Turns out, despite being duped, the 80-year-old woman is an excellent witness who kept meticulous notes. If Jamaican authorities are able to lay money laundering charges and get a conviction, a sentence in the upper court could see up to 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine. A lower-court conviction would be up to 12 months in jail or a $1-million fine.
It’s not clear if the woman will ever get her money back, but there is the possibility items could be seized by the prosecution as proceeds of crime, or a court could order restitution payments. The calls began several years ago and were ceaseless. The woman says she’s changed her number five or six times trying to get away from the merciless calls from these and other scammers and telemarketers.
At first she started sending money, taken from her credit card, to pay the lottery taxes. But when she started having trouble paying her bills, new calls also from Jamaica began. These ones claimed to be from someone who would consolidate her accumulated debt and handle payments. They promised to make the problems from the lottery people go away.
Yet this, too, was part of the scam and, in the end, this debt collection is actually where she lost the bulk of her money. Toward the end when she told the callers she had no more money to send, the scammers pleaded with her to hold on because she had now won a $1-million lottery. It was the bank, questioning why she was sending so much money to Jamaica, that got the woman to contact police. She has never spoken with friends of family about being scammed.
Cottee said fear and embarrassment often stop victims from coming forward, but he stressed it’s important to always report frauds and attempted frauds to police. According to the annual report from the crimes against seniors unit presented at April’s Hamilton Police Services Board meeting, the unit investigated 96 frauds last year, representing 15 per cent of its overall 624 cases.
Frauds involving victims under 60 are investigated by the major fraud unit. Lottery frauds are not as common as others that police have warned about, however, all scams have one thing in common — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, Cottee said. The biggest fraud, especially around this time of year because of tax time, is the Canada Revenue Agency scam in which callers claim a victim is going to be arrested if they don’t immediately send money.
Callers are often pressured to buy gift cards or submit money through cryptocurrency at bitcoin machines while still on the phone. The CRA never calls people threatening police action and never asks for money to be paid by gift cars or cryptocurrency. Another common one that particularly targets seniors is the grandparent scam, Cottee said. This is where a caller claiming to be a grandchild calls with an emergency, such as a car crash or arrest, and is pleading for immediate money. The key is often getting the victim to pay before they have a chance to check with other family. As for lotteries, if you didn’t submit an entry, it’s likely a scam, police said.
There are no lotteries in Jamaica that are open to international participants outside the Caribbean, Greenland warned.