Three people have been charged with mail and wire fraud and conspiracy after running a sweepstakes scam specifically targeted at the elderly.

Ana P. Leon (also known as Ana P. Gonzalez), Sandra E. Leon (or Sandra E. Chavarria) and Ivan D. Pelaez reportedly tricked seven people into paying over $695,000 after claiming they had won $3.5 million in a sweepstakes. To receive the money, the scammers claimed, the winner had to pay a variety of taxes and other fees. As of Tuesday morning, only Gonzalez had been arrested.

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The elderly are reportedly being targeted more frequently than ever. Another similar (but seemingly distinct) sweepstakes scam targeted a St. Louis man who was told he won $7,950 but had to pay $400 to receive the money. Another offered a free Mercedes in exchange for the “winner’s” bank account information.

“The elderly are vulnerable to financial abuse for several reasons,” said Consumer Reports’ Tobie Stanger in an interview with 13 WMAZ. “One, they have the money in retirement savings. Two, they may be lonely or isolated. And in some cases, there’s cognitive decline.”

A local Fox affiliate advises:

Sweepstakes scams appear frequently. Tell people you know, seniors in particular that is very unlikely the prize is for a legitimate contest. Be alert and never bow to the pressure to send money. Unfortunately the no call lists don’t really protect you from these calls because the phones are usually those prepaid phones that get used for just a short period of time then discarded. But you should still report the attempted scam to the Federal Trade Commission. A toll-free number is 877 438-4338 or the link to the FTC is: https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc .


Contact the author at joanna@jezebel.com.

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