TODAY | March 13, 2013
>>> back now with today investigates. a senate committee is focusing on the increasing toll so-called jamaican scams are having on americans who could lose hundreds of millions a year. lisa myers went to jamaica to check it out. good morning to you.
>> reporter: hey, savannah. good morning. scams defrauding the elderly through bogus promises of wealth have been around forever. authorities say jamaican scams have become increasingly sophisticated, aggressive and successful. so many americans are falling for them that jamaican officials complain it's hurting their country's reputation. it's an island of ocean breezes, sandy white beaches and a laid back life. jamaica has an unattractive side -- scammers.
>> we are trying to have you receive your cashier's check of the $2.5 million dollars and also a brand new car.
>> this check we are trying to deliver to you, ma'am, is a large check.
>> you're not going to win a single bloody cent by sending them money. not one red cent ever.
>> reporter: 81-year-old norman is teaching seniors a lesson learned the hard way. he gave more than $400,000 to scammers who told him he'd won a foreign sweepstakes involving millions in cash and a new car. norman dreamed that would enable him to bring home his wife who was in a nursing facility suffering from dementia.
>> i was doing everything i could to try to get money to bring her home to take care of her.
>> reporter: even after she died, norman kept paying until h he lost his home and every penny he had.
>> you want to believe that they are legitimate. it turns out they're scum.
>> reporter: the ftc reports 30,000 complaints related to jamaican scams last year and estimates fewer than 10% of victims even report the crime. some callers claim to be fbi agents or u.s. government officials confirming the senior has won something and just needs to pay a little more. others pretend to be romantically interested in the senior.
>> it is a sophisticated, cruel and pernicious scam that the jamaican government, until recently, has done virtually nothing to stop.
>> reporter: jamaican authorities say they have cracked down on drug trafficking and more criminals have poved in to scams for easy money . all you need is a phone, a computer and phone numbers .
>> once we realized it was such a huge problem we knew what we had to do.
>> reporter: last year, jamaica formed a special lottery scam task force to work with the u.s. to track down the con artists .
>> this is a dangerous part of town.
>> reporter: an american special agent from homeland security investigations who asked that we not reveal his identity showed us the scammers' extravagant homes by jamaican standards with guilded gates and security cameras .
>> reporter: don't they realize this will draw the attention of authorities?
>> you would think so.
>> reporter: violent gangs are now into scamming with folks killing each other over lead lists of u.s. phone numbers . what's more, authorities have to battle public opinion. many here don't see scams as a crime.
>> i think the one who give it should be blamed. not the one who just makes a little phone call .
>> reporter: in fact, one of the most popular songs in jamaica is a form of reparation. big up every scammer who make u.s. dollar
>> reporter: the government took the song off the air. american kim nichols estimates her father gave scammers more than $85,000 in six months.
>> i was amazed at how layered the scam is and how good at their job they are.
>> reporter: norman has advice.
>> hang up the phone. if they get their fingers into you, they've got you for goods.
>> reporter: seniorses w who get scammed are advised to please report it to authoritieses. and if you have older parents talk to them about promises too good to be true and