Police: Group in Cocoa scams elderly woman out of $50K

COCOA, Fla. — Cocoa police said a group of thieves used a popular sweepstakes to win a Texas elderly woman’s trust and steal more than $50,000.

She thought she’s won cash and prizes, but investigators said by the time she realized she’d been cheated, it was too late.

Cocoa police said Tyler Gatewood, 30, and at least three others pretended to work for Publisher’s Clearing House to defraud the 88-year-old woman.

“Our victim was not surprised to hear from someone claiming to be from Publisher’s Clearing House because she plays the sweepstakes and purchases items from that website,” said Yvonne Martinez of the Cocoa Police Department.

Investigators said the victim was told she had won $7,000 and a new Mercedes, but taxes needed to be paid.

“The caller asked her for her personal information and asked her to pay taxes and to make three separate deposits,” Martinez said.

Cocoa police said the suspects used their real names and real bank account numbers when asking the victim to deposit funds for the alleged taxes.

Gatewood is in custody and additional arrests are pending.

“There’s a plague of exploitation of the elderly within the state of Florida, which is why the Legislature addressed the issue with enhanced penalties, said Assistant State Attorney Gary Beatty. “People need to be careful.”

The Publisher’s Clearing House website has a number of warnings on how to detect a scam, including anyone who asks users to pay taxes.