Albert Poland Jr. was caught up in the grip of a Jamaican phone scam. After an intense struggle, the 81-year-old husband, father, and retired Burlington hosiery factory quality-control manager took his life in the basement of his family home in Harriman, Tennessee.
Albert left a suicide note telling his family not to spend much money on his funeral, adding he hoped that when more than $2 million arrived the next day, it would ultimately vindicate him.
Poland constantly received phone calls from a caller in the 876 area code in Jamaica claiming he was a jackpot winner. However, CNN reports the phone scam caller advised Albert, “the IRS needed $1,500 in taxes, and then the jackpot would arrive at the family home — a camera crew ready to capture the excitement.”
Albert Poland suffered from Alzheimer’s and dementia. And the Jamaican phone scam caller preyed on Albert’s vulnerability.
Phone scams and fraud are part of a business industry and activity carried on in a person’s home that targets more than 300,000 Americans each year, most of them elderly. It has lured people into sending an estimated $300 million annually to the Jamaican island.
WTVR‘s coverage of this tragic story explains how Albert Poland’s mind fluctuated. On one hand, Albert recognized he and his family was being taken by the phone scam.
In February, he went to the local police station and tried to see if he could stop the phone scam calls coming from the 876 area code.
On the other hand, he went to the post office to send money to his caller. The teller actually talked him out of sending any money and handed him a brochure on Jamaican lottery scams.
Many times his family intervened; however, he simply told Virginia, his wife of 62 years, “I’m in too deep.”
On March 21, the phone scam caller asked Poland for $1,500. Albert withdrew $400, the maximum amount of money he could withdraw from his ATM, and sent it via Western Union. Not only was Albert sure he was going to win more than $2 million — he looked forward to paying off his 53-year-old son’s mortgage and help his family for years to come.
Albert and Virginia’s son, Chris Poland, was enraged when he was told his father was talking with the phone scam caller again.
Chris talked with his father about the phone scam for months.
“Daddy, you taught me the value of the dollar. Why are you giving money away?”
While Chris was talking with his dad by cell phone, the Jamaican phone scammer called back on Albert Poland’s landline.
The next morning, a Sunday, was a repetition of previous days. More phone scam calls and another restless phone conversation between Chris and his father, Albert.
Virginia got dressed for church, but Albert decided to stay home.
It was a beautiful spring morning – trees were turning green and temperatures were hovering around 60 degrees. Albert took a leisurely walk around his yard. A neighbor waved at Albert saying, “Looks like we’re gonna have to start mowing soon.” Albert responded, “Yeah, looks like it.”
A short time later, carrying a snub-nose.38 revolver in his hand, Albert Poland Jr. walked down to the basement of the family home in the Appalachian foothills near Knoxville and took his life.
The sad and heartbreaking death of Albert Poland Jr. is just one example of how phone scams cost United States citizens their lives and life savings.
The U.S. Postal Service has published pamphlets and distributed them throughout the country. Additionally, two years ago, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held hearings about the enormity of the problem and urged U.S. and Jamaican authorities to do more to stop the phone scams.
Campaigns ran by AARP warn about the scams that originate from the Jamaican 876 area code.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, chairperson for the Senate Special Committee on Aging, comments about the magnitude of the phone scam dilemma.
“The Jamaican lottery scam is a cruel, persistent, and sophisticated scam that has victimized seniors throughout the nation. It is truly heartbreaking that this scam has robbed seniors of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
According to Peter Bunting, Jamaica’s national security minister, phone scams have become such a huge problem in Jamaica that they are referred to as the highest-level Tier 1 threat — a “clear and present danger” to national security.
The phone scam industry encompasses the involvement of Jamaican children to the nation’s most tech-savvy young adults — from the former deputy mayor of Montego Bay, to the most vicious gang members.
Bunting added how the corruption erodes occupations.
“It is extremely corrosive to the fabric of society. We have seen where it has corrupted police officers. It has corrupted legitimate businesspersons who end up playing some role in laundering money.”
The day after Albert Poland killed himself in Tennessee, the phone scam calls kept coming in.
While neighbors tried to comfort the Poland’s by bringing casserole dishes to the family home and remembered the man who taught Sunday school for more than 45 years, the phone rang. Caller ID showed that it was from the 876 area code.
The phone rang again, and again, and again. More than 40 calls coming from Jamaica. Albert Poland wasn’t even buried yet.
Chris Poland became enraged and decided to do something about the oncoming phone scam. He picked up his father’s phone, placed it on speaker, and hit the record button on his cell pretending to be his father.
The man on the other end said he was calling to make arraignments to deliver millions today.
The phone scammer said he did receive the $400 from Saturday, but needed another $1,500.
“Where is your wife right now?”
Chris responded, “She’s at the store.”
The caller said, “Ah, OK, OK, OK. What I need you to do now, Mr. Albert, is I need you to get your bankcard and your identification card and go in the car right now. I’m not going to hang up. OK?”
Chris said, “But I don’t have a car. She’s in the car.”
The caller said, “Ah, and that’s the car you’d have to use to go to the Western Union and your bank. Right?”
Chris told him, “Yes,” adding that he could try to get a taxicab.
The man said, “That would be more better, because we don’t want your bank to close today and we need to deliver this money. We want to deliver your $2.5 million to you before your bank closes, so you can put it in a safe place. OK?”
Chris responded, “OK.”
The man answered, “So go outside right now and get a cab. I’m not going to hang up.”
Chris asked where the $2.5 million will be delivered.
The phone scam caller said, “Remember that we took your address from you on Saturday. It’s going to be delivered directly to your doorstep. OK?”
More than three months after Poland’s death, the calls have not ceased.
Virginia Poland said, “He was my best friend. He was my buddy. He was just good to me. When they took him, they took my life, too.”
Once, she told her husband’s phone scam caller that her husband killed himself. The man laughed.
[Featured image via Sean Gallup/Getty Images]