Operating since the 1990s, the Jamaican lottery phone scammers have robbed Americans of an estimated $300 million each year. These highly-trained scammers are persuasive and persistent, and they target the most vulnerable, namely seniors suffering from dementia or loneliness.
Victims of this scam are told that if they pay an upfront tax or administrative fee they will receive millions in prize money. Unfortunately, the lottery winnings are not real and the targets of this scam will never see their money again.
In some cases, the scammers abuse goes beyond a single fraudulent payment. Phony callers will follow up with additional requests for money transfers. And may become hostile - threatening legal action or violence - to get them.
To protect yourself and your loved ones, look out for these five signs of the Jamaican lottery scam.
1. The call comes from area code 876
The first red flag in a phone scam is an unknown, foreign number. Jamaican scammers have been traced to the 876 area code in particular.
2. You don't remember entering a lottery or contest
Don't believe any caller offering winnings from a contest you do not remember entering directly.
It's impossible to win a contest that you haven't entered and - despite crooks' claims - your friends, family or place of work can't enter you, either.
3. The caller requests upfront fees be paid
The trademark of the Jamaican lottery phone scam is the caller's request for upfront fees to claim your prize. Do not disclose any financial information to unknown callers, who can use this information to access your accounts and withdraw funds.
Legitimate lottery operations will never ask you for any form of advanced payment.
4. You receive multiple calls
To convince callers they're legitimate, scammers often call repeatedly and leave voicemail reminders.
They may even involve your friends or family in unwittingly following up with you about their bogus offer, accessing your personal information from the internet.
5. The caller tells you to keep your winnings secret
The caller tells you not to share the news of your alleged winnings, claiming it's to protect you until you've safely secured the alleged prize money. Or so that your friends and family don't become jealous.
With elderly victims this tactic is designed to prevent family members from intervening. This is similar to the grandparents phone scam in which the caller pretends to be a grandchild in trouble. Make sure seniors that you care about know the risk of phone scams and that they should be skeptical when someone calls and asks for money.
What to do if you suspect the Jamaican Lottery Scam?
Whenever you, a family member, or friend receives a call from an unknown number avoid answering it and first run a reverse phone lookup online, if no voice message is left.