Manchester Police Chief Todd Fitzgerald says since the onset of COVID, his department has been receiving a steady stream of scam reports. This week, after two Manchester residents lost $15,000 and $50,000 to lottery scammers, he decided to push out a fresh public warning to residents.
“This is something every town is dealing with this right now,” Chief Fitzgerald said Tuesday. “And it’s important to warn people. Many of these scams use a similar approach, and it’s too bad that often we get the call when it’s too late.”
Most recently, the two cases involved.
The most recent cases happened last weekend, when police received two reports from residents—both in their early to mid 60s—who said they had fallen victim to a scam involving lottery winnings. Potential victims are told they have won a lottery or sweepstakes and must pay an amount up front – either a service charge or taxes and fees -- to receive the full larger prize and possibly a bonus. The first resident reported losing about $15,000, while another reported losing about $50,000. The investigation into these incidents is ongoing.
“If you are randomly contacted about winning a lottery, the odds are high that it is a scam to extort money,” Chief Fitzgerald said. “Scam operations use a variety of schemes to target people, especially seniors on limited incomes. We ask residents who receive offers from unknown individuals to please call the Manchester-by-the-Sea Police Department so that we can assist them.”
Nearly all the time, it’s too late for police to recover money. And according to Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin, popular scams go beyond phone calls or emails about phantom lottery winnings. Scams include fake Fraud Alerts (a popular one now involves a supposed Amazon fraud alert about an iPhone11 purchase), tax refunds, stimulus checks, even romance connections.
That said, it’s lottery scams, especially emanating from other countries, are currently among of the most prevalent consumer frauds, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers should pause if anyone asks for payment, or private information (Social Security number, for instance), if something is “too good to be true” or if the caller uses high pressure tactics. Don’t believe everything you are told. If something sounds "too good to be true," it probably is.
Unfortunately, said Fitzgerald, if a victim gives the scammer a pre-paid debit card number, sends a money order or makes a wire transfer, the money is very likely gone. There is usually no way to recover those funds.
“Many times we’re contacted when it’s too late,” said Fitzgerald. “And in the end, they just need us for the Police report.”