An elderly man has literally been harassed to death by a persistent telephone scammer promising millions of dollars in lottery winnings.
Albert Poland Jr., 81, of Harriman, Tennessee, shot himself in the head with a .38 revolver on the morning of March 22 while his wife was at church. Poland had received countless calls from an 876 Jamaican area code number promising him up to $3 million in lottery winnings. In return, the caller asked Poland to wire thousands of dollars to a Jamaican bank account, supposedly to cover taxes and fees.
Since the fraudulent calls first began about four years ago, Poland's phone has rung up to 40 or 50 times a day, according to CNN. Each time, the caller promised delivery of a large sum of money directly to the Poland couple's home, with a camera crew ready to film the big moment.
In one call made on March 21, the caller asked Poland to send $1,500 for IRS taxes. Poland withdrew the maximum $400 allowed by an ATM and wired it to the caller through Western Union.
Before his suicide, Poland had sent a total of about $5,000 to the scammer.
Poland, a retired hosiery factory manager, suffered from Alzheimer's and dementia. He reportedly would have periods of lucidity during which he would realize he was being scammed and attempt to stop the calls. In February, he went to his local police station to ask whether they could put an end to the 876 area code phone calls.
Another time, a watchful teller stopped him as he was trying to send money through the post office, spoke to him, and gave him a pamphlet on Jamaican lottery scams. Poland took the brochure and thanked her.
Poland's family, including his wife, Virginia, and 53-year-old son Chris, tried to intervene numerous times to no avail.
"I'm in too deep," Poland told his wife once, according to CNN.
At the time of his death in late March, Poland believed that his family would receive at least $2 million in lottery winnings. In his suicide note, he told his family not to spend too much money on his funeral and said that he hoped he would be vindicated when the $2 million prize arrived the next day.
Poland's family continued to receive scam calls after his death. The scammer in the case has not been identified and is still at large.
In recent years, telephone lottery scams have become a lucrative cottage industry in Jamaica. These scams target around 300,000 Americans a year, most of them elderly, and defraud victims of an estimated $300 million a year.
Authorities in Jamaica and the U.S. have stepped up their efforts to combat the problem. Earlier this year, 25-year-old Sanjay Williams of Montego Bay, Jamaica, became the first person convicted in U.S. federal court of wire fraud and money laundering in connection with phone scams that robbed over 70 people of their life savings.
The Polands first spoke to CNN in April, but investigators are still looking into their case.
Photo Credit: Sh4rp_i/Flickr, CNN