The man on the other end of the line made promises of a big payoff: millions of dollars in prize money. But first the IRS needed $1,500 in taxes, he insisted, then the jackpot would arrive at the family home, a camera crew ready to capture the excitement.
The calls came a couple of times a day; other times, nearly 50.
Mr. Albert, we need the money to be sent today ...
Don't hang up the phone, Mr. Albert ...
Mr. Albert, don't tell your wife about this ...
Albert Poland Jr. had worked 45 years for the Burlington hosiery factory in Harriman, Tennessee, starting off as a mechanic before rising to become a quality control manager.
He and his wife, Virginia, were living a humble life in the Appalachian foothills near Knoxville, having raised a son and daughter in their 62 years of marriage. The family patriarch was known simply as Daddy.
At age 81, his mind was faltering. He suffered from Alzheimer's and dementia. And the caller -- a man in Jamaica -- preyed on that vulnerability.
Poland's lucidity fluctuated. In February, he went to the local police station and asked if they could make the phone calls from the 876 area code stop. Another time, he went to the post office to send money to his caller. The teller stopped him, talked with him and handed him a brochure on Jamaican lottery scams. He thanked her.
His family tried to intervene numerous times. On one of his good days, he told his wife simply, "I'm in too deep."
On March 21, the caller asked for $1,500. Poland withdrew the maximum $400 from his ATM and sent it via Western Union. He was sure he was going to win more than $2 million. He hoped to pay off his son's mortgage and help his family for years to come.
His son, Chris Poland, was livid when his mother told him his father was talking with the caller again. Chris, 53, had had the same conversation for months with his dad; his father had sent more than $5,000 to the caller. Chris spoke with his father like most any son would. "Daddy, you taught me the value of the dollar. Why are you giving money away?"
As father and son talked by cell phone, the Jamaican called back on Poland's land line.
Mr. Albert ...
The next morning, a Sunday, was like a repeat record. More calls and another tense phone conversation between father and son.
Virginia got dressed for church. Her husband decided to stay home.
It was a beautiful spring morning, with temperatures hovering around 60 degrees and the trees a lush green. Poland strolled around his yard. A neighbor waved: "Looks like we're gonna have to start mowing soon."
"Yeah, looks like it," Poland said.
He walked to the basement of the family home. He carried with him a snub-nose .38 revolver.
In his suicide note, Poland told his family not to spend much on his funeral and said he hoped when more than $2 million arrived tomorrow, it would vindicate him.
Albert Poland was in the grips of a Jamaican lottery scammer -- part of a cottage industry that targets nearly 300,000 Americans a year, most of them elderly, and has enticed them to send an estimated $300 million annually to the Caribbean island nation.
AARP has run campaigns warning about the scams originating from the Jamaican 876 area code. The U.S. Postal Service has published pamphlets and distributed them around the country. The Senate Special Committee on Aging held hearings two years ago about the magnitude of the problem and urged U.S. and Jamaican authorities to do more.
"The Jamaican lottery scam is a cruel, persistent and sophisticated scam that has victimized seniors throughout the nation," says Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the committee's chairwoman. "It is truly heartbreaking that this scam has robbed seniors of hundreds of millions of dollars."
It's such a huge problem in Jamaica that the scams have been dubbed the highest level Tier 1 threat -- a "clear and present danger" to national security, says Peter Bunting, Jamaica's national security minister.
From children to the nation's most tech savvy 20-somethings, from a former deputy mayor of Montego Bay to the most vicious gang members, lottery scams have left few segments of the island nation untouched.
"It is extremely corrosive to the fabric of society," Bunting says. "We have seen where it has corrupted police officers. It has corrupted legitimate business persons who end up playing some role in laundering money."
The Poland family first spoke to CNN in April. Investigators are looking into Albert Poland's case and hope to provide some solace to the family soon; for now, his scammer remains at large.
From there, CNN followed the money, traveling to ground zero of the scams, Montego Bay, where we witnessed a police raid of a suspect's house. (Continue Reading)
Driven to death by phone scammers