A Georgia man has been sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay millions in restitution for targeting elderly Californians with a fake telemarketing lottery and sweepstakes scheme.
The United States Department of Justice announced that Akinwunmi Agbayewa, 45, of College Park, Georgia, was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay back more than $7.7 million for committing mail fraud and money laundering conspiracy.
Agbayewa and his accomplices used fake names and contacted victims by the mail and by phone to tell them that they had won a sweepstakes or lottery, the DOJ said. The victims were told they needed to pay taxes or fees before they could collect their winnings. Those victims then mailed checks or made direct deposits into accounts owned by the scammers, only to find out that no such sweepstakes or lottery ever existed.
Most of the victims were elderly Californians, officials said, but other people in the country were also targeted.
When the FBI and the IRS got word of the scam, an investigation began and Agbayewa was arrested and charged as part of the scheme.
In response to his conviction, the California Lottery is releasing tips so that other Californians don’t fall victim to similar scams.
“We want to make sure everyone knows that the California Lottery does not charge taxes or fees for players to claim their prize. We take these sorts of scams very seriously, and our best defense is to continue educating Californians so they can continue to play and win in a safe manner,” said Alva V. Johnson, Director for the California State Lottery.
How to avoid becoming a victim
The California Lottery has released a few important reminders for people to remember before they fall victim to a lotto scam.
Namely, lottery officials would never personally contact a winning lottery player before they file a claim form. There’s also no way for someone to win a lottery prize if they didn’t actually play the lotto.
Most importantly, the lottery does not charge players to claim prizes, which is what led to millions of dollars being funneled to the scammers in the Georgia case.
Any taxes or fees required by the IRS are not handled by the Lottery, and any questions or confusion should be directed to a tax professional. It’s also important to note that the State of California does not tax lottery winnings, according to the California Franchise Tax Board.
Still the easiest way to avoid being scammed is to only purchase your lottery tickets from authorized retailers, of which there are many, and ask yourself this simple question: “Does it sound too good to be true?”
If the answer is “yes,” then you’re probably being scammed.
Fore more information about lottery scams, click here. The California Lottery also has a customer service line where people can inquire about fraudulent activity or get help with claiming prizes. That number is 1-800-LOTTERY.
The Department of Justice is actively investigating elder abuse crimes, including neglect and financial fraud and scams. For resources, visit the DOJ Elder Justice Initiative website.
You can also contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-372–8311.