Part 1: ‘Winning’ the lottery and losing everything. Editor’s Note: Part 2 will run Monday.
He’s an intelligent man — politically active and widely known in the community.
But "John," as he will be known in this story to protect his identity at the request of his family, also is the the victim of multiple scams.
The 82-year-old Sun City man is now homeless and broke after handing over upward of $60,000 in the past two years to professional overseas scam artists his daughter Vicki describes as "pure evil."
The promise of foreign lottery winnings, sweepstakes and other riches that arrived by mail proved too tempting for John as they promised him hundreds of thousands — and sometimes millions — of dollars he was sure he was going to receive.
They came with convincing company or corporation titles, such as the Diabetes Association. Upon further investigation by family members, something always proved to be amiss.
But John wouldn’t heed their warnings that he was being taken.
And there always was that catch, that small amount of money he would need to send to secure his winnings.
The money they asked for in advance seemed like such a drop in the bucket for a financial windfall of tens of thousands.
And so John sent check after check, often in small amounts — $13, $15, $40 — when he had a checking account, chipped away from his monthly Social Security and pension.
A couple days later, when he had no money for food, his girlfriend would take him to the food bank.
When bank after bank closed his accounts for mismanagement, he would send larger amounts of money via wire transfers with Western Union, all in hopes of cashing in on that one great jackpot.
Wiring money involved assistance from friends.
Since John didn’t qualify for a bank account, well-meaning friends would drive him to Fry’s where he would cash his pension and Social Security checks and then wire money.
"If they didn’t take him, he would walk with his walker over a mile to send money to these people," Vicki said.
Recently, he was sending in his entire Social Security check and pension, which added up to about $2,000, plus additional money he borrowed from friends and relatives.
The problem is there was never a lottery win, only empty promises. All John has to show for his money and efforts are nearly a dozen boxes of records he meticulously kept of the lotteries, contests and schemes he was sure he had won, along with the wire transfer receipts from each transaction.
The scam artists would call continuously from their location in the Dominican Republic, Vicki said, numbering up to a dozen or more calls each day.
For at least one of the phone numbers, John had racked up a $30 charge for each call.
"These people are relentless," Vicki said. "People would say to me, ‘Your dad must be really gullible.’ But there are other things going on."
The people who scammed John took it so far and were so conniving that even Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard was shocked at their tactics of control and manipulation.
When John was hospitalized due to a fall three weeks ago, the scam artists were calling him at his hospital bed with one of their biggest schemes yet.
They told him he needed to get to the Wal-Mart parking lot to meet a representative who was going to give him his winnings.
So John signed himself out of the hospital early, taking a cab to the parking lot.
When no one arrived, he found a pay phone and called.
They then told him to go into the store and wire money, undoubtedly using another excuse as to why the person and the money had not arrived.
But the employee at Wal-Mart suspected a scam and refused to complete the transaction.
"Only one store stood up and denied him (the wire transfer)," Vicki said.
Another time, the scammers told John they had opened a Bank of America account in his name, where they had deposited his winnings.
John went to the bank, only to discover the account didn’t exist.
"He was there for two hours, being very belligerent," Vicki said. "And when he called the scam artists, they said they made a mistake and sent him to the wrong bank."
Goddard said this is an example of the scam artists testing John to see how far they could push him. Since he did not have a checking account — or likely any credit cards — which is how scam artists traditionally take advantage of victims, the scammers found another way to torment him.
"They are exercising control other than payments, trying to see how far they can go," Goddard said. "I have not heard of those."
Because of John’s poor financial situation, the con artists have had to work more diligently to obtain the funds.
"He is a harder mark than someone who does have credit cards and a bank account to tap and drain out," Goddard said. "Someone who has become limited takes real work to get money out of them."
The scams started about four years ago, Vicki said.
She said she and her sister needed to intervene about two years into it, when he was being scammed from various sources.
At that time he handed over the paperwork and other information about where he was sending money.
After his daughters counseled him, they thought everything was fine.
"And then the next day he was back into it," Vicki said.
John’s pattern of continuously answering lottery and jackpot mailings, sending money and communicating with scam artists is a behavior Goddard hears about when tracking scam artists and victims.
"It becomes a compulsive behavior," Goddard said.
Goddard said about a year ago when the Canadian lottery scams increased in popularity, he heard from people convinced they had won who were checking the early winnings and found they needed to send money to pay other expenses.
"We got two calls immediately from women who we initially thought were simply reporting a scam," Goddard said. "They wanted us to investigate why they were so slow in paying their winnings. And in spite of providing education on it, they still believed they won."
Those women had paid $60,000 and $95,000 each in that scam.
"In each of these cases there is always one more setback, either with the currency exchange or extra taxes or legal fees," Goddard said. "And because people are so invested, now they are trying not only to get their winnings back, but they are embarrassed they have already sunk in this much."Joy Slagowski may be reached at 623-876-2514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.