The people we spoke with for this story said they feel as if their homes are being invaded by phone calls promising a fortune that soon turn to harassment. One woman was called 33 times in one day.
The phone calls seem to never stop for Carol Cavanah. "Now I'm sick and tired of them calling," she says.
Since September, Cavanah has been getting calls from strangers telling her she won the lottery. All she had to do to claim her prize was go to the store and load money on Green Dot MoneyPak cards. She did, putting a total of $300 on the cards.
"I scratched off the back of it, gave them the numbers off of it. Then later on that night I thought, 'I'm going to call and see if the money is still there and they told me that there's no money there,'" recalls Cavanah.
No money left on the Green Dot MoneyPaks and no real lottery winnings.
"I'm practically in tears," she says. "They took the last bit of money I had, and I told them that that was the last money I had because my husband just died."
Her husband died of cancer days before the calls began. Without her husband's income, Cavanah had little money and was being forced to move. Then she got that first call.
"I was happy," she says. "I thought the Lord came down and blessed me."
Rhonda Ryan has been getting the calls, too. "I was the official winner for September as a $5 million prize," she says.
She just had to follow orders.
"He instructed me to go to CVS and purchase for $500, a Green Dot CVS PayPak card," she says.
Ryan didn't get the card but she does have recordings of a man, calling himself Mr. White, outlining the scam. In one recording, he tells her, "Ms. Rhonda, stop behave [sic] like you're stupid." In another he says, "Ms. Rhonda, it's Mr. White. As I say to you before and I say again, if you do this, make this payment for $500 you won't be regretting it because you will be a happy lady for the rest of your life."
In one recording Mr. White even claims to be headed to her house. "It's Mr. White and today's your big day so please give me a call because we are on our way to get there. So give us a call so that we can get that MoneyPak, OK?"
"I wonder where my safety lies and how far this will go," says Ryan.
The numbers calling Cavanah and Ryan have a Jamaican area code. One law enforcement official in Jamaica claims the lottery scams will bring $300 million into that country by the end of the year. Cavanah says something has to be done before there are more victims.
"I think the government ought to step in and find out what is going on in Jamaica that they're taking so many people's money over here," says Ryan.
"It's fraud perpetrated against a U.S. citizen and that is important to us," says San Francisco Secret Service agent in charge Andy Adlemann. According to Adlemann, these lottery scams are hard to bust outside the United States.
"When you're dealing with a foreign government potentially or pursuing a foreign citizen in a case like this it's particularly difficult because you don't have as much control as you would as you're investigating in the United States," he says.
Many times it's up to the foreign governments to crack down on fake lotteries, like a recent raid in Jamaica that netted over 30 arrests, cash, and numerous cell phones used in these scams. Based on what the I-Team uncovered, the Secret Service is now investigating.
In the meantime, we decided to call Mr. White.
Noyes: We have several people here in the Bay Area who say that you called them to tell them that they won the lottery. Aren't you just really taking people's money?
Noyes: So they actually won the lottery?
White hangs up.
We wanted to give Mr. White another chance.
Noyes: I think we somehow got disconnected.
White: Oh, OK.
Noyes: So in what way are these people lottery winners? Did they actually win the lottery? Are you working for a lottery?
White hangs up again.
That's exactly what experts say you should do when you get one of these calls -- just hang up.
We contacted Green Dot about their MoneyPaks being used in these scams; they say they warn their customers. You can read their full statement in a new I-Team blog and find a link to that report from Jamaica about these scams and the incredible amount of money they're bringing in.