Local man loses thousands to international scam

May 1, 2008 9:34:14 PM PDT
An Eyewitness News camera is there as a Triangle man becomes the victim of an international telemarketing scam.

When we saw what was happening and how much money he was losing, the Eyewitness News Investigative Team went to work trying to get his money back.

"It's gone. I probably won't never get it back, but I'm hoping!" says a 66 year old Triangle resident who has just lost about $3700 to a scam.

"Money is money to me," he says, "it's just really frustrating to me."

He's retired, on a fixed income and doesn't want to be identified because he's embarrassed.

He called us for help after some smooth talking con artist convinced him that he won a lottery.

    Victim: How much money, I'm gonna get? Caller: right now with me I have $2.5 million with me in a briefcase and $50,000 in cash.

As the scam unfolds, the caller says she's down the street, trying to deliver his prize.

    Caller: "This is Federal Express we're coming over to you right now. Are you at home? Victim: Yes I am. Caller: I'm at Anderson Street, do you know where that is? Victim: Yes.

But, to get the $2.5 million, the victim is told he needs to send $585 via Western Union. It sounds familiar to him because the scammers first called a few days earlier.

The victim told Eyewitness News, "I said you sure you got the right person, because they said it was some kind of readers' digest. I said you sure you got the right person, they said yes."

To get the money, the caller said he had to pay a tax on the prize. First, he wired $895. The next day he sent $2,795 more.

"It's really a despicable crime," says Joan Fleming. She's an FBI agent in Raleigh who tracks down con artists.

"People want to believe this is my lucky day, I finally won this huge prize," says Fleming.

But, the caller was never down the street. Instead, we tracked this case to the Caribbean paradise Jamaica. Jamaica is home to sophisticated gangs making millions by calling innocent Americans and conning them out of their savings.

"They're using prepaid cell phones that they obtain under phony names and other means of hiding their activity," says FBI agent Joan Fleming.

Our victim in the Triangle used Western Union to send money to men named "Noah Smith" and "Paul Pothmont" in May Pen, Jamaica.

"When you send your money using one of the wire services, it's virtually untraceable," says Joan Fleming. She continued, "it can be picked up anywhere."

Our victim also had a series of messages on his answering machine with phone numbers as the con artists continued trying to get more cash.

So, we decided to get the Jamaican scammers on the phone.

    Steve Daniels: You're not one of the con-artists ripping off the Americans? Caller: We're not interested in what they're doing because that is stealing.

Our retired victim from the Triangle is still looking to get back what he lost.

    Caller: Did you pay any money today? Victim: No, I didn't send no money today. Where is my money?

"As soon as you become aware that they're reaching for a family member's wallet or a friend's wallet or a neighbor's wallet, you need to do you best to try and educate them," says FBI agent Joan Fleming. She continued, "these are criminals that your money is going to and there is not going to be any prize."

We've discovered the Jamaican gangs are violent and often turn to murder to protect their scams. We have been in touch with the Jamaican Police about the scam. They tell us they are trying to track the people behind the scam through their telephone numbers. They say that because they're pre-paid cell phones, they're attempting to get the providers to help track them down.

Western Union tells us they make security and anti-fraud information available everywhere their service is available and they encourage consumers to never send money to people they don't know.


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