ALFRED, Maine — An elderly Arundel woman was isolated from family members and robbed of nearly $80,000 during months of manipulation by callers claiming she had won a Jamaican lottery, according to the York County Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office released a five-page description of the scam Thursday detailing a chain of events in which the victim skeptically fielded the first calls, then over time allowed the fraudulent lottery officials to alienate family members and even change her phone number in order to make her dependent on them for emotional support, all the while promising they would deliver a new car and check for $2.5 million if she would just pay a few more processing fees. And then a few more.
The con artists identified themselves as Mark and Jennifer and claimed to represent an outfit known as Gold Rush International, deputies stated, with Jennifer splitting off to play the role of confidante, calling late at night just to talk or to check in during storms in order to build trust.
Once York County investigators became aware of the scam, after the perpetrators already had drawn down nearly all of the woman’s life savings, they uncovered an international spiderweb of facilitators, many of whom were previous victims convinced to help victimize others to recoup their losses.
Among those pulled into the criminal network were a former Florida schoolteacher and a former Minnesota veterinarian, who admitted to serving as middlemen for the scammers and passing along the Arundel woman’s money in exchange for small payouts. The layers of go-betweens further obscure investigators’ abilities to pin down who is ultimately behind the schemes, deputies stated.
The masterminds, local investigators said, are difficult or impossible to identify despite new federal programs targeting the operations. As a result, the sheriff’s office stated, the best way to deal with the problem is still public outreach and prevention.
The callers initiating the scams will try building rapport with their victims, York County deputies reported, but will resort to intimidation and harassment if they need to.
“The Jamaican criminals involved in these scams are sly and dangerous,” the Sheriff’s Office report stated. “One of them spent 10 years in a Minnesota prison for murder.”
Law enforcement officials said that the Arundel woman, 82, will likely have to sell some of her land or trees on it to pay for heating oil. Before falling prey to the Jamaican lottery ruse, she lived comfortably on money she had saved for retirement.
“Sitting in her manufactured home on several acres of wooded land, [she] is not enjoying the calmness or serenity that her advanced age deserves,” the Sheriff’s Office account reads. “Her insides are in knots and lately she’s been crying herself to sleep, clutching the only symbol of hope she has left, her crucifix.
“While [she] may be able to recover some of her life savings, she will never regain her sense of security, her ability to trust others and the self-respect she lost for allowing herself to be taken on the cruelest ride of her life,” it continues.
A Sheriff’s Office announcement Thursday cautioned Mainers never to give out bank account or Social Security information or long-distance telephone access code to callers, and to recognize that any supposed lottery official seeking processing fees or secrecy is a con artist.