TALLMADGE — Scams against the elderly are common, but it’s rare for a victim to actually get his or her money back.
Tallmadge police, working with a police department in Oregon and the U.S. Postal Service, recently recovered the more than $3,200 that an 81-year-old city woman recently lost in a sweepstakes scheme apparently originating in Jamaica.
Such scams are hardly unheard of. According to AARP, the Federal Trade Commission received 142,870 reports of scams involving prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries in 2017. The unwary victims lost about $95 million in the form of claimed fees, taxes or customs duties that were required in order to receive non-existent prizes, with $511 the median amount lost by victims.
In some cases, victims were told they needed to send additional amounts, with total losses rising over time. About a decade ago, for example, a 71-year-old woman reported that scammers pressuring her for months to send money, resulting in the loss of her entire life savings, around $500,000. Police at the time said it was determined that scam was carried out by people in the Philippines and the matter was reported to the Federal Trade Commission, but there was very likely little that could be done to recover the money.
In the case of the Tallmadge woman, police said that after sending the money in two packages to an address in Oregon, the woman realized something was wrong and refused to accept any more calls from the man who had phoned her and she had not given him any personal information that might have been used to defraud her of additional money.
According to a police report, the woman reported Feb. 14 that a man with a foreign accent called her a couple of days earlier and claimed that she had won $2.6 million and a Mercedes automobile. The man then convinced the woman to send more than $3,200 to pay fees and taxes on the winnings.
The money was divided into two mailings, one sent via the U.S. Postal Service and the other by Federal Express, to an address in Silverton, Ore.
"Usually by the time police become aware of these situations the money is long gone," police said in a March 1 posting on the department’s Facebook page. "In this case, Officer Mike Scholles was notified quickly and conducted a thorough investigation."
Scholles contacted the Silverton Police Department, which recovered the Federal Express package at the home. Meanwhile, the USPS intercepted the other package before it arrived.
Tallmadge police said it was determined that the Silverton home’s resident was also a victim in the scam that involved somehow manipulating that person into forwarding the packages to a man in Jamaica.
"Please take time to talk with your elderly friends and relatives about these types of scams and those on the Internet," the police posted on Facebook. "They need to be aware that they can discuss these matters with you, a friend, or the police department before falling victim to these predators. We are here to help and Officer Scholles did some outstanding work, but 99 percent of the time, we can't get their money back to them."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.