Lottery scammers target elderly, mentally ill, say cops
The story of one heartbroken elderly victim who committed suicide
WHEN Ann Mowle answered her phone and heard a Jamaican accent on the other end, she panicked. The elderly woman immediately slammed the receiver down, fearing it was another episode in a seemingly endless nightmare.
Jamaicans had fleeced the 76-year-old grandmother of Monroe, New Jersey, of her entire life savings -- some US$248,000 -- through the illicit lottery scam originating from this Caribbean country.
On top of that, the retired Princeton University bookkeeper had grown terrified of the accent, which for about a year had delivered vicious threats towards her and her family.
The phone rang again, Mowle heard the same voice, and again she hung up. The woman had had enough! She had already sent all her money to the extortionists, and was no longer able to pay for her 'security'.
It took about three phone calls before Mowle decided to listen to what the voice on the other end of the phone was saying.
"Please, don't hang up. I am a Jamaican law enforcement officer. I am here to help you," head of the Organised Crime Investigation Division (OCID) Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey assured her as he tried to gain the woman's confidence.
He soon did, and Mowle burst into tears as she related her harrowing ordeal.
"She was about to lose her house, the money for her grandchildren's education, her money from retirement, everything, and she just started to cry," Bailey told editors and reporters at a meeting of the Jamaica Observer Press Club on Thursday. He noted that he soon developed a relationship with Mowle and that he reassured her that Jamaican law enforcement was working hard to recover her money.
But whatever reassurance Bailey had offered Mowle in that, and subsequent conversations were dashed upon his return from a six-month training stint in El Salvador.
Mowle, dejected and heartbroken by her experience, had taken her own life.
According to US news website, Lottery Post, Mowle, a college graduate who raised three children on her own, received a letter informing her that she had won a US$2.5-million jackpot in October 2006. To collect her prize, the letter stated, she would have to pay US$18,000. She sent the money.
"From there, the scam spiralled out of control with a barrage of phone calls from the con artists who duped her into sending more cash," the website stated.
The woman subsequently made more than 50 wire transfers of US$158 to US$4,750 to addresses in Jamaica before June 2007. Soon her life savings had been depleted.
On October 31, 2007, Mowle left the records of all her wire transfers neatly stacked on a dining table inside her apartment, dropped off her beloved poodle at the dog groomers, and drove to nearby Spring Lake. A day later, fishermen found her body on a jetty at the Worthington Avenue Beach.
Investigators determined that she had committed suicide, the article stated.
Mowle's daughter, JoAnn Trivisonno, the Lottery Post story added, insisted her mother was "not a gullible person... a fearless woman", as she refuted criticism that her mother had been naive to send money to the scammers.
However, Bailey said Mowle fit the profile of preferred victims of the Jamaican scammers, who primarily target the elderly, sick, and vulnerable.
"The victims tend to be very old, and some of them suffer from illnesses such as Alzheimer's, mental illness," Bailey said, adding that the American [gambling] culture also caused victims to buy into the hoax.
"Sometimes you even wonder about the conduct of these individuals, their psychology," he continued. "Because of their culture, a lot of them easily buy into these types of things, and this is one of our challenges," he explained.
Compounding this challenge, Bailey said, was the scammers' capacity to convince their victims that they had indeed won money. They will go as far as sending their victims pictures of Caucasian Americans to further camouflage their hoax, explained the senior superintendent, as he noted that sometimes the scams are not as easily detected as many would suppose.
"When somebody calls and tells you that you went to, for example, Walmart yesterday, and then they give you the precise time that you went," said Bailey. "And then say to you that whilst you were shopping you were entered into a competition and you won a BMW, and they even send you a picture of that BMW. It may sound ridiculous, but based on their (victims') culture in America they see it as possible," he said.
Bailey said that the scam artists gain their victims' personal information and telephone numbers from telemarketing or major retail outlets in the United States.
"And they are very good at what they do; they will give them (victims) some stories that they need, for example, processing fees, or that the Government held on to their money and that they have to pay tax or lawyer fees. And persons would send them money for these purposes," he said.
Once that process starts, he said, it is very hard to convince the victims that they are being scammed. Bailey made reference to a conversation he held with the daughter of one victim. Her mother could not be dissauded and was completely convinced that she had indeed won money.
"She (the daughter) said she cannot convince her mother that she has not won more than $3 million. The daughter said that she realised it was a scam and that she told her mother, but the scammers sent a photograph of a white man to her mother, and introduced the man as the owner of the company from where the money would be coming," he said.
"Once she (the mother) saw that, nothing could convince her that the white man was not going to turn up with her cheque," he said.
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