Lottery scam artist bilks S.F. senior out of $6,500

A 74-year-old San Francisco woman was bilked out $6,500 earlier this month by a bogus lottery scam that frequently targets the elderly, law enforcement authorities said.

The woman, a Mission Terrace resident, was contacted by a man who claimed she won $600,000 from a Canadian lottery, despite never entering the contest, said Capt. Dennis O’Leary of the Ingleside Police Station.

In order to collect her winnings, the woman was instructed to mail in $7,000 to a Canadian address to avoid tax penalties. Without consulting anyone, the woman sent two payments totaling $6,500.  The woman reported the scam to the authorities July 16, after it became apparent she wouldn't be receiving her promised winnings.

O’Leary said scams of this nature happen about once a month in his district, often targeting the elderly and immigrants who speak English as a second language.

The scammers who tricked the Mission Terrace resident were particularly organized, O’Leary said.

“In this particular case, the woman was scammed out of an amount that is at least twice the amount we usually see,” said O’Leary.

The trick, commonly referred to as the “Canadian Lottery” scam has been frequently used in San Francisco, said Lt. John Geraty of the Police Department’s Fraud Detail.

Other examples of scams range from the complex, such as the Nigerian Internet pitch, where people are duped into paying cash to secure a supposedly lucrative balance transfer from a Nigerian bank, to the basic bait-and-switch ploy, in which the scammers replace real cash with crumpled up paper.

“There is constantly a new scam going on,” Geraty said. “I’m amazed at what lengths people will go to get money out of other people.”

Because of the manner of scam artists — particularly ones using the telephone or Internet — fraud cases tend to come in waves, Geraty said.

“Con artists usually target one area of the country before moving on to the next,” Geraty said. “Some of these scams are thwarted, but unfortunately, some are not.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Falling victim

The “Canadian Lottery” scam has been used on victims across the world for numerous years.

Law enforcement officials warn that any pitch that reportedly comes from another county should be treated with caution, since it is harder to track fraud from a foreign country.

An announcement that a person won a contest that they did not enter should be treated with suspicion.

Legitimate contests rarely require up-front money to receive winnings.

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