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Police warn local seniors of Jamaican lottery scam

LAWRENCEVILLE -- James Flanagan has some suggestions for seniors who may be targets of a scam with ties to Jamaica: Take your bills directly to the post office, use online bill pay and don't believe you're a winner of a lottery you didn't enter.

Flanagan, a white collar crime detective with the Gwinnett County Police Department, said this kind of scam resurfaces every couple of months.

"It's all the same scam," Flanagan said. "It's tweaked and re-perpetrated again and again."

The latest version comes by letter or a phone call with a message that the targeted person has won thousands or even millions of dollars from the Jamaican lottery, but must first send $2,500 or more on a pre-paid debit card to Jamaica to facilitate currency conversion rates and secure shipping.

"It's usually somebody with a horrible accent," Flanagan said. "A lot of people call it for what it is, but a lot of people buy it and get sucked in."

Flanagan said he investigated one case of a Lawrenceville woman who sent tens of thousands of dollars but refused to call herself a victim. Her husband alerted police, but because they had separate bank accounts, and the woman declined to help in the investigation, Flanagan forwarded it to U.S. postal inspectors.

"She kept sending over and over and over again. I told him he needed to get her medically evaluated," said Flanagan, who added that the scammers bullied the woman if she backed off of payments. "She didn't think she was getting ripped off."

Flanagan said he speaks to elder abuse classes and reminds seniors that no one will give money without authorization first, and Jamaica uses American currency, so there's no need to convert the money.

Dacula resident Bill Zimmerman said he and his wife were first targeted in the scam last fall.

Zimmerman, 78, said the calls originated in places like Kingston, Jamaica, Spokane, Wash., Taylorsville, N.C., and south Texas.

"They're making all these promises, like we won the lottery, $3 million to $4 million," Zimmerman said.

The would-be scammers said to send off a green prepaid debit card from WalMart that would lead to the Zimmermans getting a white Mercedes Benz. A letter that arrived from Washington said they had won $1 million a year for life, Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said he contacted AT&T after the callers got "very vulgar" with his wife, and he requested that the phone company block the number. The problem is, the numbers come from "random" cities, he said.

"It's so nerve-wracking," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman is not sure how his address and phone number were obtained, but he said he doesn't think more sensitive information has been obtained.

"They don't have my Social Security number or bank account number," he said. "So far I'm free and clear. It's just aggravating."