The FBI’s secret weapon against lottery and romance scammers

Personal Finance

“Many of these victims just don’t feel important to anyone anymore,” Deem said. “Scammers prey on feelings of hope and purpose and give people a reason to get up in the morning.”

As a victim specialist, Deem works closely with investigating agents to ensure that victims are treated with respect, provides information on victim rights, does crisis intervention, gives referrals to services and updates those defrauded on the status of their case.

Dino, 91, who lives just outside Los Angeles (and didn’t want his last name used), is typical of the elderly Deem tries to help. He started sending money orders to Jamaica late last year after he was repeatedly contacted by criminals claiming he had won a lottery, but had to send a “fee” to claim the prize.

Dino needed the phantom winnings so he could move his very sick wife to a better care facility, because his own medication is costing him thousands. Dino’s young roommate Edward — who calls Dino his adoptive grandfather — did everything he could to stop the flow of money, yet nothing worked.

“The calls never stop coming in. He is so locked onto this. It’s so bad that he even tries to hide from me. He goes into the restroom or his room and talks silently so I won’t hear him,” said Edward, who also asked that his last name not be used.

“I show him YouTube videos and news reports and people that have had the same problem and he says to me, ‘They’re not all scammers.’ I don’t know what to do.”

After a bunch of web searching, Edward recently reached out to Deem. Now, she and Dino talk roughly once a week.

“If you are going to help [victims], you have to replace whatever they are getting out of the scam,” she said.

Sadly, the elderly are easy marks.

They are often isolated and depressed, making any contact a welcome break to the day’s boredom. Research suggests the part of the brain that makes people skeptical is among the first to atrophy. Medications can even play a part, Deem said. And growing ranks of retired Americans make for a target-rich environment.

Federal law enforcement agents have taken notice. Earlier this year, the Justice Department extradited a group of Jamaicans to North Dakota, alleging they tricked at least 90 people out of more than $5.7 million. That investigation began after a North Dakota woman lost $300,000.

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