Friday, June 22, 2007

Internet Scams Rise : Authorities Lack Inclination to Curtails This Kind Abuse

But there's no one way that people try to take advantage of the elderly. Greenwood described a contractor scam, in which contractors tell elderly homeowners that they need crucial structural work done immediately and if the owner will just write a check, the contractor will fix it. Or there's the salesmen who persuade 85-year-olds to purchase 10-year annuities—a legal transaction, but perhaps not practical. But Kulinski, Cartier and Greenwood all spoke to CityBeat about the "in" con: The Canadian Lottery Scam.

The grift runs like the Nigerian scams so common over e-mail. An elder—let's call her "Ethel"—receives a letter congratulating her on winning the Canadian lottery. The envelope contains a check for the first payment, but to get the rest, she needs to pay the taxes on it. To find out how best to pay the taxes, all Ethel need do is call the number in the letter to figure out where she should send the tax payment. Naturally, even if Ethel sends the money, she will never receive her winnings, and the check for the first installment will bounce.

In one specific case recently, the niece of an elder like Ethel intercepted the letter and passed it on to Greenwood. He called the number and tried to lure the scammer into giving himself away. When he didn't, Greenwood identified himself to the scammer and received curses for his trouble. On the day last week when Greenwood showed CityBeat the letter, he then turned to the phone, pushed the speaker button and dialed 778-318-6211.

"This guy is a crook, he has no conscience at all," Greenwood said as the phone rang.

A man answered.

"Hello, Liberty Investments, how may I help you?" a voice purred on the other end, with a hint of a Caribbean accent.

"Is this Jim Lewis?"

"Yes, how can I help you?"

"This is Paul Greenwood, the prosecutor."

A pause. Greenwood pushed harder: "Are you still scamming old ladies for their money?"

"Go to hell!" The accent was distinct now. "You are an idiot! You don't have a job to do!"

And he hung up. Greenwood looked up. "They're so brazen."

Greenwood has contacted the federal authorities, plus colleagues in Vancouver (the city with the 778 area code) and Los Angeles, but everyone lacks either the resources or inclination to pursue this kind of case.

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