A Jamaican scammer who duped Americans into believing they won a lottery or contest and paying him fees to collect their supposed prizes, and who also sold “sucker lists” to other lottery scammers, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $5 million to his victims.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says that Sanjay Ashani Williams of Montego Bay, Jamaica, was the first such scammer tried and convicted in the United States. Eighty victims were identified, although the number is likely much larger because many victims are too embarrassed to come forward after falling for a fake lottery scam.
Williams called people on his own, telling them they won prizes like millions of dollars and brand new cars. The catch was that they had to wire him money for various made-up fees or give it to him via pre-paid money cards. Of course, those who paid never received any prizes, although they were often victimized by additional attempts to get more money out of them.
Williams also sold lead lists to other Jamaican scammers. These lists contained names and telephone numbers of potential victims, and often plenty of other information gathered from websites with fake contest forms or surveys. Information on people over the age of 55 was particularly prized, as con artists love to target older adults and senior citizens who might be less aware of how such scams work.
Although the lowest amount lost to Williams by a victim was $300, one person actually sent him a total of $850,000. That’s just a drop in the bucket, as U.S. officials estimate that Americans have lost over $1 billion to the Jamaican lottery scam.
Catching one of these scammers is rare, and the likelihood of getting your money back once you’re been scammed is nearly non-existent. Don’t fall for fake lottery scams in the first place; keep these tips in mind to protect yourself:
- NEVER pay money to get a supposed prize.
- Never wire money to someone you don’t know personally.
- Never load a pre-paid card with money and give the number to someone you don’t know personally.
- Don’t answer calls with an 876 (Jamaica) area code or return messages from such callers, even if they claim they want to give you millions of dollars or valuable prizes. Also, keep in mind that many scammers fake the caller ID, so they might be calling from Jamaica even though your caller ID displays a U.S. area code and phone number.
- If you answer such a call, don’t engage with the scammer. Say that you know it’s a scam and that you’re passing the phone number along to the police department, then hang up. Do the same thing if the scammer persists in calling you.
Sometimes Jamaican scammers will use the information on their sucker lists to scare you by threatening to come to your home and harm you and your family. Don’t believe them. They can put your address in Google Street View to see what your house looks like to make their threats sound more credible, but they’re likely far away and won’t show up in the U.S. because they don’t want to be arrested. If you believe you have reason for genuine concern, call the police.