The Better Business Bureau gets calls about lottery scams daily - sometimes dozens in a week. Some area residents have lost thousands of dollars, and one has lost as much as $5 million.
Locally, the BBB knows of victims in Ladue, Lake St. Louis, West County and Jefferson County.
Today's warning from the Consumer Fraud Task Force, a joint effort of government, law enforcement and nonprofit groups, advises families to be alert to behavior changes that could indicate that someone has become a victim. The full press release is available on the BBB website.
Victims may be so embarrassed or frightened by their losses that they may not tell friends or relatives what's going on. They may be evasive about phone calls they have received, and they may have engaged in unusual financial transactions, such as wiring money or buying prepaid money cards.
Many of these scams are based in Jamaica, with phone calls coming from the 876 area code. Some also may be perpetrated by email. In most cases, the scammers ask victims to send money to pay for taxes or processing fees for winnings - usually by wire transfer or prepaid money cards. The request to wire money is always a red flag indicating a scam.
Law enforcement officials say the thieves can be convincing. They prey on people who are lonely and vulnerable, but not necessarily mentally incompetent.
Here are some tips for families to use in talking to potential victims:
- Raise the topic as part of a normal conversation. If the friend or family member is not being victimized, the conversation could serve to educate them about the issue. If they are being victimized, they might agree to share information about the scam.
- Be concerned about phone calls that your loved one either does not answer or dismisses with general, vague comments. Many Jamaican calls come from an 876 area code.
- If a friend or family member who has been financially comfortable suddenly becomes concerned about money issues, it could be a sign that he or she is a fraud victim.
- Be alert to persons purchasing money orders, pre-paid cards or wire transfers when they have no history of similar purchases. It may be a sign that they are dealing with a scammer.