It is a family nightmare: an elderly parent who refuses to listen to her children's warnings that con men are robbing her blind.
Juan Hood and her 83-year-old widowed mother are estranged because foreign lottery scams have torn their family apart.
Hood said her mom would say, "Look, I've won, I've won." She would try to tell her she hadn't won, but her mother wouldn't listen.
"We are looking at having to have her deemed unfit or incompetent, and that is going to take an excruciating amount of money. That is going to take an excruciating amount of time," added Hood.
She said her mother has always entered various sweepstakes that arrive in the mail.
"Even when I was a child, she would play, of course everyone does, Publishers Clearing House," explained Hood.
But something changed when Hood's father died and her mother was alone.
"I've seen decline in her over the last several years," she explained.
Hood's mother started getting calls telling her she won the lottery, but she just needed to pay the taxes. Another phone call said she won a car and just had to pay the storage fee. Hood's mother sent money over and over again. In fact, the post office she used noticed the frequent packages she was sending to various addresses, so the postmaster visited Hood's mother at home.
"As soon as we saw the information she was showing us, I knew then that it was a lot bigger than just, what we initially thought," said Postmaster Dwayne Davis.
Davis said he tried to explain to her that she was dealing with scam artists.
"I said, 'Quit sending them your money.' She said, 'No, I'm not. They are going to help me.' In this case, she trusted the people that she had been talking to on the phone more than she trusted us," said Davis.
Hood said her mother has lost more than $20,000 so far and has put herself in debt with all the international phone calls. And she won't stop. Postal inspectors said they were forced to take drastic measures.
"She became so resistant to our talks or working on talking to her clergy or family that it came to the point, where, in order to protect her, we had to obtain a federal search warrant to get the money or money orders that in this situation that we knew were going to go through her post office," explained Postal Inspector Brad Mahs.
"I don't believe my mother will get help until she loses every single penny she's got, and then I don't know she would (get help)," Hood said.
Hood said she's come to realize it's important for children to have protections in place, such as power of attorney over their elderly parents' financial matters. That way, if something goes wrong, like in this case, you can prevent your parents from losing their life savings.
The Federal Trade Commission has these words of caution for anyone thinking about responding to a foreign lottery:
- If you play a foreign lottery — through the mail or over the telephone — you're violating federal law.
- There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances of winning more than the cost of your tickets are slim to none.
- If you purchase one foreign lottery ticket, expect many more bogus offers for lottery or investment "opportunities." Your name will be placed on "sucker lists" that fraudulent telemarketers buy and sell.
- Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch.
If you think you've responded to a scam, you need to file a complaint:
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