The Merced Police Department is warning residents about a scam that uses the California Lottery as a way to bilk people.
Detective David Alcaraz recently attended training for fraud investigators and learned there is a group of scammers who may be coming back to the Merced area.
Alcaraz said the con artists often target elderly Latinos who do not speak English.
One of the scams involves the California Lottery. The con artist finds potential victims in parking lots of retail shopping centers. The scammer, after finding a potential victim, claims he has a winning lottery ticket, but cannot collect the money because he is not an American citizen. At that point, another con artist shows up asking if anyone needs help.
The con artist tells the potential victim that lottery officials require collateral in order to collect winnings. The con artist tells the victim the collateral can be money, expensive items or jewelry.
The victim then hands over money or belongings in anticipation of getting a share of the lotto prize, but the con artist disappears without a trace.
According to Alcaraz, several people in 2009 fell for this scam and other similar scams. Victims in these cases lost a combined total of at least $16,000. The con artist will take as little or as much as the victim has to offer. Usually the victims are people who can least afford to part with their money.
The California Lottery rules state no one has to be a U.S. citizen to claim a lottery prize. The lottery never confirms a win over the phone, and no collateral of any kind is needed for a prize to be claimed.
Another scam popping up involves the Internet. The con artists use the Internet and e-mails with official-looking logos and job titles to gain confidence. The con artist provides the recipient with details about how to collect on a prize or inheritance that has been transferred from a foreign bank to an American bank.
The e-mail recipient is usually provided with a reasonable explanation of fees that need to be paid before the recipient can collect any money. A recent scam told the victim they had won $800,000 and the winner needed to pay $300 in processing fees to a person alleging to be an agent employed by the government.
Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade said the police department will hold informational meetings on this topic to educate the public and to prevent families from losing any money.
A meeting will be held for Spanish speakers at the Merced Police Department South Station on March 23 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.
For more information, call Lt. Andre Matthews at (209) 385-8885.
-- Carol Reiter