Mon | Dec 16, 2019

Lotto scam victim still owed near US$400K

Published:Monday | November 11, 2019 | 12:30 AM
In this undated photo, Edna Schmeets, 90, reflects on being scammed out of her life savings by Jamaican criminals at her home in Harvey, North Dakota.
In this undated photo, Edna Schmeets, 90, reflects on being scammed out of her life savings by Jamaican criminals at her home in Harvey, North Dakota.

HARVEY, ND (AP):

A 90-year-old American woman who was robbed of her life savings by a Jamaican lottery scam says she has been paid back only US$287 of the US$400,000 she’s owed.

Edna Schmeets of Harvey, a small central North Dakota town about 77 miles (124km) northeast of Bismarck, was the victim whose case launched what became the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam case prosecuted in the United States (US). All 31 defendants have been prosecuted, including 14 Jamaican nationals who were extradited from that country. Authorities identified victims of the scam in 31 states, with more than 100 mostly elderly Americans bilked out of more than US$6 million.

“I’m so disappointed,” Schmeets told the Bismarck Tribune of the small amount she’s got back. She said she was told that another cheque for US$138 was pending.

Federal prosecutors pledged to get at least some of the victims’ money back. But offenders’ inability to pay often limits the collection of restitution. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, many victims wait years before receiving any money, and many never receive the full amount they are owed.

Most restitution ordered in federal court cases is never collected, according to a US federal government report last year. The US Government Accountability Office studied Justice Department data and found that at the end of fiscal year 2016, US$110 billion in previously ordered restitution was outstanding, and federal prosecutors had identified US$100 billion of that – or 91 per cent – as being uncollectable due to the offenders’ inability to pay.

“Sadly, what you’re seeing here (in the scam case) is all too typical, where victims are promised substantial restitution but the reality is much less,” said Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and special counsel with the National Crime Victim Law Institute.

Scammers would call victims and tell them they had won money in a lottery but that they needed to pay advance fees to collect it. The scammers would then keep the victims’ money without paying out anything.

In 2011, shortly after her husband died, Schmeets began sending large cheques, provided her credit card number, borrowed money from her sister, and cashed out life-insurance policies after she was told by a scammer that she had won US$19 million in a lottery.

“I think about it every day; I always keep beating myself up,” said Schmeets, who said she has no savings left. “How could you be so dang stupid?”