It’s not just another lottery scam from a foreign country. A 79-year-old Broward woman has paid “fees” of more than $370,000 so far but wants to keep paying more in hopes of getting some $7.5 million promised by the scammers.
The woman's friends and family tried months ago to get authorities to block her bank accounts and rule her incompetent. But those authorities did nothing.
So the woman's financial adviser took his own client to court to stop her and stop the scam. Tuesday, a Broward County judge ruled her incompetent, made a temporary order permanent, and blocked access to her assets to everyone except a court-appointed guardian.
NBC Miami is choosing not to use the name of the elderly victim because authorities fear the scammers are dangerous.
The woman believes even now that, because she gave the scammers $370,000 in “fees,” maybe more, that $7.5 million in Jamaican lottery winnings will arrive any day.
Registered financial adviser David Treece of Miami Shores was horrified when he realized what his client was doing with her money.
“Right from the beginning,” he said, “she was so adamant about sending money to Jamaica. And I told her no. And I got the family and the authorities involved right then because I refused to do it for her. That’s when she figured out she could do it herself.”
Treece said his fiduciary responsibility is important to him. “And if I know this money is going to criminals,” he said, “I'm not going to facilitate it.”
But what happened next was even more frustrating for him.
"And then I called everybody I could call. Adult Protective Services, who sent somebody out. I called the Department of Children and Families, I called the Florida Elderly Abuse hotline, I called the police. I called the FBI. We called everybody, and nothing seemed to happen.”
Treece said in April, two state DCF investigators visited his client’s home. And he followed up in these emails to them with dire warnings:
"…the situation is increasing in seriousness."
"…late last month, (she) pulled out over $100,000."
“…reduced her monthly income to...zero."
"…the criminals...have even called one of (her) neighbors."
Still, DCF took no action. As a result, following the April home inspections, she continued to send more money to the scammers in Jamaica. Treece read the withdrawal spreadsheet like a roster of the dead:
"April 15, it was $22,000. April 26, about $45,000. May 4, $62,000. May 13, $45,000. May 24, $20,000. June 1, $26,000."
Finally, on June 8, Treece hired a lawyer and got a court hearing where a judge granted a temporary ruling of incompetence, blocking access to her accounts.
"This is one shocking example of where the system failed," said Treece. "And this just fell through the cracks. And I don't see why it had to be that way, it was clear from all the records we had - from phone records, from financial records - that this was going on."
Vicki Brail, the court-appointed guardian, also said more could have been done long before a judge brought her on board.
"Perhaps the system could've moved a little faster in the protective services," Brail said. "But once it came to the attention of the court, it moved immediately. It was done on an emergency basis and the judge has handled it very appropriately and in a very timely manner.”
And Brail said she wants charges filed against the scammers, even though they are in Jamaica. Brail, Treece and others report the scammers posed as FBI agents and charged her money to try to get her money back. They posed as officials from the Jamaican Attorney General’s office and visited her Broward home hoping to help her find a way to pay more “fees” to get her millions. They even called her neighbors.
The Department of Children and Family Services has yet to say why they took no action.
“Even today,” said Brail, “even after all of the surrounding people in her life - her family, her financial planner, the court - has tried to convince her that maybe these people are trying to rip her off and scam her, she's still totally convinced that she's going to get her money back.”
So dedicated was Treece to stopping the scam that he even called the scammers in Jamaica.
“This guy named Tiger. And he was trying to say 'no, she's won this money, she's won millions of dollars, but she needs to go ahead and pay this money.' And I said 'do you know who you're talking to?'"