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Financial Crimes

Raleigh victim of Jamaican lottery scam receives $45,000 in funds recovered by ICE

RALEIGH, N.C. — The family of an elderly Raleigh woman defrauded of nearly $200,000 by Jamaican scammers received a $45,000 check Monday for funds recovered on her behalf by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Jamaican Financial Investigative Division (FID).

The woman, in her 90s, received information in May 2012 that stated she had won a lottery prize. She was later contacted by a man who told her she owed $9,000 in taxes and other expenses to receive her prize. The fraudsters cheated her out of nearly $200,000 before she reported the scam to law enforcement.

HSI special agents, along with the Winston-Salem Police Department, FID and her financial institution, identified a bank account at the National Commercial Bank in Jamaica where the illegally obtained funds had been deposited. Under Project JOLT (Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing), an international task force comprised of agents and officers focused on combating Jamaican-based telemarketing fraud operations, special agents from HSI Kingston worked with local authorities in returning the $45,000 left in the scammer's account to the victim. The criminal investigation into the fraudsters behind the scam is ongoing.

"The international assistance HSI received from our Jamaican partners on this, namely FID, goes to show the unprecedented cooperation by the two governments in the effort to combat these fraud schemes," said James Stitzel, assistant attaché of HSI Kingston.

In March 2009, HSI and JCFpartnered to form Project JOLT to combat the significant increase in Jamaican-based telemarketing fraud. In one of the more common scams, these telemarketing fraudsters are calling U.S. citizens and leading them to believe that they have won an international, multimillion-dollar sweepstakes. The scammers tell the victims that in order to receive their winnings they have to pay an advance fee, usually described as a tax, insurance or customs duty that must be paid to release their winnings. The victims are instructed to send the advance fee via Western Union, Money Gram or other methods to co-conspirators in Jamaica. Other telemarketing schemes include phony inheritance, investment and disaster relief scams, as well as scams claiming that the victim's own grandchildren are in need of help.

According to Jamaican law enforcement, telemarketing fraud is also a lucrative mechanism for local gangs to raise capital to facilitate the smuggling of weapons into Jamaica and the smuggling of narcotics to the United States.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has warned that consumers lose billions of dollars a year to cross-border financial crimes such as telemarketing fraud. One of the most common types of telemarketing fraud is the lottery or sweepstakes scam. These schemes typically involve fraudulent telemarketers identifying themselves as lawyers, customs officials or lottery company representatives to potential victims.

Perpetrators will victimize consumers of all ages, backgrounds and income levels, but the elderly are disproportionately targeted. Perpetrators take advantage of the fact that elderly Americans may have cash reserves or other assets to spend on these deceptive offers. A survey conducted by American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that 90 percent of respondents reported awareness of consumer fraud, yet two-thirds said it was hard to spot fraud when it is happening. The survey also shows that elderly victims find it difficult to terminate telephone conversations, even when they say they are not interested in continuing a conversation. Also, the elderly may be reluctant to report the incident for fear of losing financial independence should their families discover the fraud.

Since the inception of the operation, Project JOLT investigations have resulted in 149 arrests, 10 indictments and 6 convictions. In addition, these investigations have resulted in the seizure of over $1.2 million in assets and the repatriation of over $251,000.

Consumers should report any incidences of telemarketing fraud, including fraud originating from Jamaica, to the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or online at http://www.ftc.gov. Click on "Consumer Complaint? Report it to the FTC."