MILWAUKEE (AP) – A Jamaican national pleaded guilty this week in Wisconsin to a federal charge that he swindled at least $35,000 from more than 50 people in a rip-off known as the Jamaican lottery scam.
O’Brain Junior Lynch, 28, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The prosecutor and defense attorney are both expected to recommend five years in prison when Lynch is sentenced in September, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Lynch, who also goes by the alias Jake Dinero, also agreed to pay at least $100,000 in restitution.
Lynch’s defense attorney, Dan Meylink, said his client was very sorry that his actions caused people harm.
“He accepted responsibility by pleading guilty, and he looks forward to doing what he can to repay his debts,” Meylink told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Complaints about the Jamaican lottery scam have soared over the past six years. The Federal Trade Commission received 29,220 complaints about it nationwide in 2012, up from fewer than 2,000 in 2007. The actual figure is probably higher, but many victims are either embarrassed to admit they were scammed or don’t know where to report it.
Victims are told they’ve won cash or a big prize and have to wire money to claim it, but the prize never arrives. The scammers generally target senior citizens, especially those on Social Security.
Some victims are defrauded by scammers who take advantage of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s move to require that Social Security benefit payments be made electronically. Benefit payments can be directed to an account or to a prepaid debit card.
The con artists enroll the victims online to receive the debit card, and set up a PIN number. Then they direct the victims to withdraw the money and send it to Jamaica.
One of Lynch’s alleged victims was from Glendale, which is why the federal case was being heard in Milwaukee. Federal agents began investigating when they learned that more than a dozen cash cards were sent to the same home.
The homeowner said he’d been told he won $2.5 million and two Mercedes-Benz vehicles, but he had to pay taxes first.
He also acknowledged that he received several prepaid Social Security cards in the mail and that he cashed the cards and sent the money to Lynch. He said he knew Lynch had ripped him off but he was cooperating because he was hoping Lynch would give him his money back.
To avoid becoming a victim, investigators recommend the following:.
– Never give out personal information to strangers, including Social Security numbers and bank account numbers.
– Remember that a legitimate sweepstakes or lottery will never ask you to pay taxes before giving you your prize.
– Never wire money to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
– Never send money to an address that’s a post office box number rather than a full address.
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com