Friday, March 8, 2013

CCSO Investigating Lottery Scam Cases

Deputies are warning residents that con artists are targeting Hispanic people in Collier County in a lottery scam.

Under this scam the suspect approaches the victim and begins speaking Spanish, saying he or she is having trouble cashing in a Florida Lottery ticket due to being in the country illegally. The suspect tells the victim there are fees or taxes that need to be paid up front. At some point a second suspect appears as a third party who overheard the conversation and agrees to give some of the money toward the fees if the victim will give the rest. Once the victim has handed over money the two suspects disappear.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office reminds the public that immigration status does not prevent anyone from cashing a Florida Lottery ticket. In addition, any taxes due are deducted from the winnings.

Since January, CCSO has received three reports of a scam involving lottery tickets.

In all three cases the victims were Hispanic and tricked into giving the suspects sizeable sums of cash up front.

Here’s a look at the three cases CCSO is investigating:

* On Jan. 10, a 62-year-old Immokalee woman told deputies that she was standing outside in front of her residence when she was approached by a Hispanic man and woman who told her they had just won the lottery. The couple promised her a share of their winnings, but needed money from her up front in order to claim the prize.

The woman gave the suspects cash, along with her cell phone and jewelry. She also agreed to let the female suspect use her restroom. Then all three left in a green car. The suspects drove to a shopping plaza, where they told the woman to get out of the vehicle. The suspects drove away.

* On March 5, a 65-year-old man told detectives he was walking behind a supermarket in Golden Gate when he was approached by a Hispanic female who told him she had a winning lottery ticket for $25,000, but was unable to redeem it because she was in the country illegally. A Hispanic male who was walking by approached them and told the woman he’d be willing to help. He then asked the victim if he was willing to help by putting up some of his money and they could split the lottery winnings.

The victim gave the suspects cash up front. The suspects then told him that a third person was involved who would make up the difference. They told the victim he would get his money back and an extra $4,000 for his efforts.

The victim then got into a gold minivan with the suspects and was driven to a house in Golden Gate. The suspects advised him to knock on the door and to tell the man to give him the rest of the money. The victim knocked on the door and a man answered. The man told the victim he had no idea what he was talking about. When the victim turned around, the suspects were driving away.

* On Feb. 11, the 60-year-old victim told deputies she was approached by two women at a big box store in East Naples. The female suspects were fluent in Spanish. They claimed to have won the lottery and needed the victim’s help cashing the ticket because they were not legally in the U.S. They promised the victim a portion of the winnings in exchange for cash up front.

The victim got inside the suspects’ tan sport utility vehicle and was driven to her bank, where she withdrew cash and gave it to the suspects. The money was placed into envelopes. The suspects then drove the victim to another store to buy postage stamps. The victim went inside the store alone and when she returned the van and the suspects were gone.

CCSO has released these images of three people detectives would like to talk to in connection with the Feb. 11 case. Detectives have also released an image of the SUV believed to have been driven by the suspects.

Anyone with information on these cases is asked to call the Collier County Sheriff’s Office at 239.252.9300, or to remain anonymous and be eligible for a reward call Crime Stoppers at 1.800.780.TIPS (8477).