KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An international scam that targets grandparents, the mentally ill and the vulnerable has drawn in an Overland Park man, and now his family believes the Social Security Administration is enabling the crime.
Federal Trade Commission officials claim this scam targets thousands of people coast to coast, defrauding them out of $1 billion each year.
The ruse starts in the beautiful Caribbean island of Jamaica with a simple phone call. The caller says you've won millions, but there`s a catch: You first have to pay thousands of dollars in fees and taxes to claim your prize.
"They go and they make these people think there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," said Byron Pierce, a financial crimes detective with the Overland Park Police Department.
Americans receive 30,000 calls a day from these criminals, who often use an 876 area code.
But the foreign scammers never deliver big winnings; they deliver false hopes and promises, and even threats to fleece their victims.
The devious scam has now captured the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
"These Jamaican scammers are masters of manipulation, playing to their victims' fears and emotions until they have drained them of every dime," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who sits on the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Those same criminals have one Overland Park man's 88-year-old father under their spell. Detectives believe his case is the worst lottery scam they've ever seen in Johnson County.
"Unfortunately they have his complete confidence," said the son, who asked Fox 4 to call him "Robert" to protect his dad's identity. "They don't call them con-men for nothing."
Robert doesn't want to embarrass his father, a WWII veteran who unwittingly became a victim of this crime.
"It's really a shame because my dad is a good guy," Robert said.
The crooks hooked Robert's dad six years ago and haven't stopped calling since. They've bombarded him with messages, sometimes 30 a day, and have conned him into sending more than $150,000.
"He's lost so much, or thinks he's had so much invested, that he doesn't think he can afford to quit," Robert said.
Robert tried to stop the scam by asking a Johnson County court in 2008 to appoint him conservator of his dad's estate. A judge agreed, ruling his father was an "impaired" adult.
But that wasn't enough.
The Jamaicans convinced his father to put his Social Security payments on a debit card, one Robert doesn't control, so he can't stop his dad from sending those funds to the crooks.
"He's cognitively impaired and needs protection from financial predators," Robert said of his father.
The Social Security Administration, however, disagreed.
Robert asked SSA three times to be his father's representative payee, a move that would protect his dad's benefits. The agency refused, saying his dad "demonstrates a capability to handle his own SSA affairs," according to official SSA documents.
"Really what it comes down to is a crime is being committed against my dad," Robert said. "They (SSA) know it. I know it. They're in a position to stop it and they're not doing it."
The SSA would not discuss this case with us, citing privacy laws.
But in a statement, the agency said: "Adult beneficiaries are presumed to be capable of managing benefits," a conclusion "determined by evaluating medical, legal and lay evidence."
But Robert said the agency didn't talk to family members, the postal inspector, or Detective Pierce.
"By far this is has been one of the most egregious cases I've worked," Pierce said.
It's a case that's taken a financial and emotional toll on Robert and his family.
"My dad doesn't deserve this, especially at this point in his life," Robert said.
Following Fox 4's investigation, SSA appointed Robert to be his father's representative payee. However, his dad has 60 days to appeal that decision.