Scammers target victims in southern Illinois

The U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Illinois is willing to go anywhere in the world to find the con artists ripping off people in Southern Illinois. He's already found a lottery sweepstakes scammer in Jamaica, and a man in Nigeria who duped women by romancing them and taking their money. He's extraditing them back to the U.S. to make them face justice here.

"Southern Illinois is a target for both international and domestic based scam artists. We have seen people lose their money, we've seen people lose their dignity," said Steve Wigginton.

It almost happened to Joan Cox in Alton when she got calls from people offering her grant money in the amount of $100,000. They told her she'd never have to pay taxes on it, it was free. But it wasn't. She'd have to put $900 on a Green Dot card and send it before she could get the six figures. The Coxes are retired. They are just making it.

"An extra $100,000 pay off that would be a lot off or shoulder," said Cox.

"If you haven't been ripped off, I almost guarantee that one of your friends, neighbors or relatives has," said Federal Trade Commission Midwest Director Steve Baker.

He said 10 percent of us fell for the scammers last year. He also said 80 percent of all money going through MoneyGram from U.S. to Canada fraudulent.

That's why Wigginton made fighting the scammers a priority. Four of his prosecutors are working on the cases. He said scammers keep coming back to southern Illinois because they've been successful in defrauding people there.

It's a crime that goes unreported, he said. His investigators set up a trap to catch the scammers around the world. They've found them in Canada, a lottery sweepstakes scammer in Jamaica and he said, "We have an individual sitting in a prison in Nigeria who we are working on extraditing."

His prosecutors take more scammers to court than any other U.S. attorney in the country.

"Last year we did 37 percent of all mass marketing frauds in the entire nation in Southern Illinois, " he said.

Wigginton said he's seeing a new breed of scammers emerging. More gangsters are getting in on the game. He said they're stealing people's identities and their money through the internet and emails, and phone calls instead of robbing and shooting them.

If you need to report a scam, visit the Federal Trade Commission's Midwest Region website.


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