Lottery scam targets elderly women in Florida

Inside Subprime: June 22, 2018

By Lindsay Frankel

Three Florida con artists are facing charges for a lottery scam that targeted Hispanic senior women in Hillsborough County, Florida.

Maria Pena-Lebron, 83, was one of the 14 elderly victims of the scam. She was approached in a parking lot by a woman, 52-year-old Siomara Jimenez, who claimed to need help collecting a lottery ticket due to her undocumented status. Jimenez now faces 13 charges, and her accomplice, Jhon Fredy Figueroa, faces 22 charges. A third suspect has not yet been apprehended.

In order to steal from her, the trio set up a phone conversation between Jimenez and a fraudulent Florida Lottery official, who led Pena-Lebron to believe that Jimenez would be allowed to claim her fake lottery winnings ONLY if a documented individual put up $10,000 in collateral. Jimenez told Pena-Lebron that she would have her money returned to her once the prize was claimed, in addition to $2,500 for her efforts. Jimenez went with Pena-Lebron to withdraw $5,000 on a line of credit from her bank before proceeding to steal the money with her accomplice.  

According to Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, the 14 victims of the lottery scam lost a cumulative $152,034 in cash and $34,400 in jewelry. Detective Roberto Ramirez, who summarized Pena-Lebron’s account of the crime in English, said the incident has caused the victim to lose faith in humanity. “It’s something that has changed her to the point where she says, ‘I’m not willing to help people out anymore. Now I have to second-guess people,’” he said.

Jimenez’s arrest warrant also describes the similar details of two other heists. The suspects took $7,254 from an elderly victim in a Home Depot parking lot, and the trio conned another victim out of $1,800 in cash along with $14,000 worth of jewelry. The three suspects will cumulatively face 48 charges and hundreds of years in prison.

Attorney General Pam Bondi commented on the age of the victims at a news conference Friday. “Why do people prey on our seniors? Because they are vulnerable,” she said. “We live in a population with a high senior number because they want to retire in Florida. They want to feel safe in Florida.”

But safety may only be an illusion for many vulnerable seniors. Unfortunately, this is not the first case of criminal victimization of seniors in Florida, and some institutions even take advantage of the elderly within the limits of the law. Seniors are frequent targets of predatory lenders in Florida, and Hispanic individuals are also disproportionately harmed by payday loan services. Many seniors may not be aware that there are safer alternatives to these products, and will end up trapped in debt as a result. And with 20.7 percent of Hispanic seniors in Florida living in poverty, that population is left especially vulnerable to financial harm.

To learn more about scams and predatory lending in the U.S., check out these related pages and articles from OppLoans:


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