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ICE retrieved $160K taken from a Canadian lottery scheme

March 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A senior citizen gets his life savings back, after federal agents track down scam artists who took $160,000 from him as part of a Canadian lottery scheme.

The victim, who doesn't want to reveal his identity, was told he won a Canadian lottery. In fact, he won several of them totaling more than $3 million. But there was a catch- he was told he had to pay taxes on the winnings up front, which is how he ended up writing three checks for $160,000.

The handshake symbolized the end of a telemarketing scam that nearly bilked an 87-year-old man out of his life savings.

"I'm real glad that I have that money back, honestly," said the victim. "Because when I lose this money this is actually the last heap of savings that I have."

Wednesday afternoon the victim received three checks from ICE Special Agents totaling $160,000. Checks the Los Angeles man wrote to bogus telemarketers in Quebec, Canada, two women named Kate and Susan who said they worked for the US Justice Department and the IRS.

"Typically the scam is, 'hey you have won the lottery, $1.5 million,' which is what I think it was in this case," said Claude Arnold from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "'But in order to collect your prize, you have to pay the taxes on it up front.'"

The victim's son, who won't release his full name, said his father began getting these calls last spring and the women continued to call even as recently this week.

"He mentioned to me they are nice over the phone, they're nice to talk to," said the victim's son. "They probably try and build that rapport first for a little while."

And the L.A. man isn't the only victim. Authorities identified five US residents who sent cash or checks to the con artists in Canada. Among them are an elderly woman in Maryland and another in Minnesota.

Retrieving the losses as in this case is rare and tracking down the suspects is tough to do because scammers use bogus names and change addresses often. Authorities say the best protection is to avoid becoming a victim.

"What's so insidious about it is, they will target the same victim more than once," said Arnold. "Once they know someone who is susceptible to falling prey to this scheme, they will go after that same person again."

Authorities said this victim is tremendously fortunate; he was able to get his money back. Authorities retrieved the checks because the money never made it to the scam artists in Canada.

Canadian Postal Service workers intercepted the mail to the address in question before those checks reached the scam artists. This happened after they received a tip from authorities working another victim's case.

If you believe you've been a victim of this scam or any other you're asked to call Department of Homeland Security ICE Agents at 866-DHS-2-ICE.