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For most Americans, the thoughts of criminals stealing your money and valuables tend to bring forth images of thieves breaking into homes, criminals robbing banks or the common smash and grab out of a vehicle.

But one elderly Marco woman has become the victim of thieves she had never seen.

Marco police say over 15 months, the recently windowed woman wrote checks totaling more than $100,000 while she had been in telephone contact with a group claiming to represent the Canadian lottery.

"The old adage of If it sounds a bit too good to be true it probably is," said Marco Island detective Rich Stoltenborg. "We are constantly getting calls from residents who have received phone calls regarding a wide variety of scammers, unfortunately some don't call us first."

The woman's family came to visit their mother from out of town to help her recover from her husband's death and discovered some irregularities in her financial transactions.

"When my husband began to dig through those records we found my mother in-law had given over $100,000 to individuals claiming to represent the Canadian Lottery," said the women who said she preferred to stay anonymous, but wanted to tell the story to protect others.

The phone scammers had convinced her mother-in-law that her late husband had probably purchased the ticket without her knowing it, and was indeed the winner. To "prove" it, the scammers sent her a check for $60,000, but told her she couldn't cash it yet.

"They had even sent her a bogus check for a large amount to show they were indeed sincere, but told her she couldn't cash it until all the other owed monies were paid. Then and only then would they release that check and send the remaining amount," said the daughter in-law.

By the time the scam was discovered by her family, the unsuspecting women may have written multiple checks, mailing them off to Canada.

A financial loss such as this can cause elderly retired persons to lose their homes, police said.

Marco police said the case it still under active investigation.

"We have been in contact with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and are providing them with information that we have received regarding this case, but these are tough cases to bring to a suitable conclusion, but we really try to do all that we can," said Stoltenborg.

Police estimated that phone scams like this one alone cost Americans about $9 billion annually. Those amounts are probably even larger, for they only represent a piece of what is reported to authorities.

And there are other examples of scams foisted on the elderly, police said.

IRS scam

Recently Americans have been receiving intimidating calls from individuals portraying themselves as agents for the Internal Revenue Service. Through intimidation and threats of confiscation of property and freezing of bank accounts, they attempt to have the party purchase some type of prepaid debit card with a special pin number. They may also suggest the use of a wire-transfer.

The callers claim that failure to do so will result in an immediate arrest warrant being issued. None of what is being told is true. The IRS says it would not contact taxpayers by phone, but instead use U.S. mail.

"The best tool law enforcement has regarding these and so many other scams is a well informed and educated public," said Marco Police Chief Al Schettino.

In the case of the IRS scam, Schettino suggested going to the IRS website.

"WWW.irs.gov is a great website, they provide a lot of information on ow to protect yourself against fraud, and if you have been a victim of IRS fraud, they will assist you through the steps to correct it," said Schettino.

Nigerian email scam

Most Americans that have an email account have seen the fraudulent communication from a representative of someone in Nigeria who wishes to get $30-50, 80 million out of the country quickly, and if you help facilitate that, he or she will be more than willing to share it with you.

That, too, is a fraudulent attempt at trying to separate you from your hard-earned savings and you should immediately delete those types of emails, police said.

Cellphone scams

As cellphones have gained more and more popularity, authorities are finding a number of creative scams being executed upon unwitting mobile phone users. Many involve the receipt of an email or text mail requesting a return call to an 809 area code number.

You'll be calling into an expensive overseas pay-per call service, resulting in large charges being placed on your next bill. Authorities advise if you don't recognize the number – don't call it.

Authorities also recommend that you constantly check the details on your phone bills and credit card accounts to guard against unwanted or illegal charges.

Police said anyone receiving suspicious emails or phone calls should report them to local authorities and take no action on these requests.

"If someone asks you over the telephone to purchase a prepaid card and call them back with the PIN number, stop, this is a fraud. Tell the person on the other end of the phone that you are calling the police and hang up," said Stoltenborg.

More information

A good anti-scam website is fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud for an overview of some of the phone and Internet schemes.

If you think you many have been a victim of a fraud, call the Marco Island Police Department, 389-5050.

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