Tracking Down Scammers North Of The Border

Scam artists create sucker lists of seniors who are promising targets.
Smooth talking con artists operating from so-called "boiler rooms" in Canada are convincing elderly Americans over the phone to send them their life savings in a host of telemarketing scams.

CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian tells how those con artists find you in the first place and how millions of seniors end up on so-called "sucker lists."

"What about some leads? I need some more leads. I'm looking for specialized leads." That request is in a phone call between a telemarketing con man and the supplier of so-called "leads" -- information like home phone numbers, bank accounts and credit history that are craved by con artists.

Why is a credit card number so important? Sgt. Yves LeBlanc of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police says it shows they have access to money.

Sgt. LeBlanc is in the business of tracking down those who traffic in leads often pulled from phony prize or sweepstakes entries and used to gather the names of the gullible.

"What they don't realize is, as soon as they're putting their signature on that form and sending it back, they now go on a sucker list," says Leblanc. "Telemarketers refer to those lists as sucker lists."

Keteyian Blogs: How Seniors Get Scammed
The lists have revealing names like "Oldies But Goodies," for compulsive gamblers over 55 and "Suffering Seniors" for those with debilitating diseases.

The lists are pure gold in the hands of this Montreal con man, who asked we call him Zack.

"They're guaranteed hits," he says.

Keteyian: I'm looking at phone numbers, I'm looking at names, I'm looking at dates of birth, I'm looking at banks. There are 12 names on this page. How many could you close?

Zach: Probably all 12.

Keteyian: With some scam or another?


Today, in cities like Montreal, leads are the way in to a $40 billion-a-year global criminal enterprise centered in Canada, home to hundreds of boiler rooms preying on hundreds of thousands of seniors in the United States.

"I was scammed with this Canadian outfit, pretty strong," says Alonzo Fox. The 85-year-old Fox was on dozens of sucker lists, having entered phony sweepstakes for years. He ended up being conned out of $40,000.

"I've had as many as 47 requests for sweepstakes entries in one day," he said.

Authorities say names found on sucker lists in busted telemarketing boiler rooms in Montreal were traced to forms sent out by Rick Panas, the owner of a printing business in Rock Hill, S.C.

In 2005, Panas was barred from doing business in Iowa for "bogus prize mailings" and is currently under federal investigation in North Carolina for, sources say, his role in selling leads to con artists. When Keyetian went to his business, a door was slammed in his face.

"What outrages me the most, I guess personally, would be that they are targeting people who are susceptible," says Postal Inspector Tim Mahoney, who tracks down lead suppliers in the U.S. who are priming the pump for boiler rooms in Canada.

"It's fairly obvious, in a lot of cases, yhat they know how the leads are going to be used," he says.

Keteyian: The lead suppliers in the U.S... so they know their leads are ripping off the Americans. No question...

Zach: No question. They don't care. They get their money, that's it.

Keteyian: So when we hear "we're just supplying names, we don't know what happens to them…"

Zach: Don't believe them.

Fox now shreds all his junk mail. Perhaps it's the best defense against showing up on sucker lists -- the lifeblood of Canadian con artists draining the bank accounts of American seniors out of billions a dollars a year.

The following Web sites offer specific information on scams targeting senior citizens and how to avoid becoming a victim: