Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

Worldwide Lottery Scams Lotto International Fraud

11/06 - CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) -- A New York man who collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from an Iowa woman as part of a sweepstakes scam was sentenced to 14 months in prison.

Michael Van Houten, 39, of Brooklyn, N.Y., pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud after originally facing 18 counts. He was ordered to pay $268,872 in restitution.

Van Houten helped operate a scam in which an Iowa woman was told she won a sweepstakes but first had to pay bogus advance fees and taxes before she could claim her prize.

The woman wired about $200,000 to New York from businesses in Waterloo, Hudson and Cedar Rapids.

"He picked up the money transfers that came from the victim and brought them to the people running the scam," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Thornhill.

No one else has been arrested in connection with the scheme, but the investigation is ongoing.

The scam started in July 2002 when the woman was called and told she won a large cash sweepstakes, and over the following year she paid the money in $3,500 and $8,000 installments by using MoneyGram and Western Union, records state.

People involved in the scam sometimes asked their victim to use a false name when sending the money and told her not to mention the sweepstakes to anyone, including police, because doing so would disqualify her from the prize.

Canadian Lottery Scammer Sentenced in Lotto International Fraud

07/06 - CONCORD, N.H. - (AP) A Canadian man who pleaded guilty to defrauding elderly widows and widowers in the United States in a lotto international telemarketing scheme has been sentenced in federal court in New Hampshire to over six years in prison.

Adhemar Baptiste of Montreal was part of a group of Canadians indicted in 2002 after an investigated that included the FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police revealed the group defrauded about 80 victims by telling them they had won large international lottery prizes but had to prepay Canadian taxes and fees to get the cash.

Some of the victims affected by the fraud were in New Hampshire. Losses exceeded $8 million and $6.4 million in restitution was ordered. Baptiste's share of the obligation was more than $1.5 million.

Baptiste was sentenced Monday to 78 months in prison.

At least six others have been sentenced in the case. Sentences have ranged from one year to 10 years.

Victim of International Lottery Cashes Fake Cashier's Check

05/06 - COVINA, CA — John McLeod is little wiser after nearly falling for a lottery scam.

"If it sounds too good to be true, man, believe it. It goes back to that old cliche," McLeod said.

The Covina man got a notice in the mail two weeks ago saying he won $165,438 in an international lottery, but first had to pay a clearance fee and taxes of $2,750 as required by federal and international laws.

The fee could be deducted from his winnings, according to the notice from the prize director of Uni Trust Inc. They would send him two checks. McLeod was leery but said he remembered signing up for an international lottery couple of years ago.

"In my greed (I was) thinking I could use $162,000 right now,"

McLeod said, adding he just bought a business in October, Monico's Beauty Salon & Supply in Azusa.

He received a cashier's check for $2,950 from Banner Bank in Washington state on May 10 and was supposed to wire back $2,750 to a Jeri Lindsey via Western Union. He was told Lindsey was the boss of Michael Howard, his contact from the prize department. McLeod would supposedly get the balance of his winnings the following day.

He called the number on the check for Banner Bank and talked to a woman who said she was from customer service.

"What bank has customer service at 7:30 a.m.?" he said.

McLeod deposited the check May 11 at Bank of America and asked the bank to verify if it was good. He was told they couldn't because it wasn't a Bank of America check and it would take up to six days to clear.

He later called information for phone numbers for Banner Bank and reached an employee who told him the lottery was a fraud and that she'd been getting dozens of calls all day, mostly from Kansas City.

"First thing she asked me was if I wired them the money. I said no. She said, 'You're one of the lucky ones." I feel relieved. I couldn't afford a hit like that."

McLeod went to Covina police.

Lt. Pat Buchanan said the scam was perpetrated through the mail, which falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and that McLeod must call that agency.

The number on the "winning notice" sent to McLeod comes back to a cell phone in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. A man who answered the phone on Monday identified himself as Michael Howard and said Uni Trust Inc. isn't in Canada.

When told the check sent to McLeod was bogus and had the same routing number used in several counterfeit cashier's checks, Howard denied the check came from his company.

"If the money is not good it's not from this company," he said. "What do you want me to do? Maybe you got a check from other companies."

The phone number on the fake cashier's check reaches a recorded message telling callers to leave a message and someone from customer service will call them back. No one returned a phone message left Monday.

Ramona Moffat, assistant vice president and fraud investigator for Banner Bank, said this kind of fraud has been going on for years. Banner Bank last year notified the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that counterfeit cashiers checks bearing the bank's name were in circulation and mentioned the routing number used. The FDIC issued an alert.

That routing number appears on the check sent to McLeod.

Thousands of banks have been hit by the widespread scam, Moffat said, and the FDIC has issued similar alerts to many other banks.

Long Beach police say international lottery scams are common, but they have not had reports of this particular scam.

"It comes for awhile and goes away," she said. "Some of the checks are very similar (to Banner Bank's), some very dissimilar." She suggested that people file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

"And use good common sense. No. 1, you don't pay up front for a lottery," Moffat said.


More examples at Lottery Fraud, Nigerian Lottery Scams, Costa Rica Lottery Scam, Jamaican Lottery Scam.