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Olean woman’s plight underscores warning to consumers about telephone scams

Hang up. Change your number. And, yes, tell someone.

Kathleen Dolecki wants people to know that there are ways to avoid falling victim to a lottery scam.

The Olean woman should know. She lost her life savings and retirement as part of a Jamaica-based scheme that promised her tens of thousands of dollars in lottery winnings if she would only pay an upfront fee.

To hear Dolecki, the promises quickly became threats and, before she knew it, she had lost everything.

“They prey on the elderly,” she told reporters Monday. “They prey on people like me.”

Dolecki appeared with U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. during a news conference in Buffalo to promote National Consumer Protection Week and what people can do to avoid becoming victims of fraud.

For Hochul, it’s all about knowing whom you’re dealing with and knowing when something is simply too good to be true.

“These predators cause very real suffering,” he said.

Unfortunately, Dolecki’s story is all too common, said Shelley K. Carosella, a U.S. Postal Service inspector.

Carosella said Jamaica has become a popular base for lottery scams that target senior citizens and rely on frequent, threatening phone calls to the victims.

“The best advice I can give anyone is, just hang up,” she said.

Consumer advocates say there are a number of red flags to look for and pitfalls to avoid when contacted by telephone or email solicitors.

Don’t send money to someone you don’t know, they say, and never pay a fee for the promise of a big payoff down the road.

They also advise against replying to email or phone messages asking for personal or financial information.

“Today’s consumer must be vigilant,” said Warren E. Clark, president of the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York.

Clark says a consumer’s best weapon in the fight against fraud is to be skeptical and well-informed.

People who want to report a problem can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint, or with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org/upstate-new-york/.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com