(CNN)The phone calls wouldn't stop.
Trial marks U.S. first
Getting hold of a caller list is gold in the scamming world.
Originating from legitimate calling centers, such lists contain the names, addresses and phone numbers of thousands of Americans and can be purchased online in the black market.
Scammers begin by congratulating their prey for winning a lottery or a Mercedes. Victims are then directed to pay "taxes" up front, typically $1,500 to $3,000 through Western Union or Moneygram. The winnings never surface.
Sometimes scammers send checks for thousands of dollars to lure people in; the checks bounce, but by then the victims have paid their "taxes."
Scammers hook the most vulnerable, often tricking them into sending cash again and again. They sense a lonely person, flatter them and convince them they're friends. Sometimes, victims get coerced into sending TVs and appliances to Jamaica. A rare few have flown to Jamaica and married their scammers.
When victims try to back out, scammers use Google Earth to zoom in on their homes, describe the neighborhood and threaten to kill or rape family members.
One elderly American has been duped of more than $1.5 million, authorities say. Another taped 99 $100 bills to the pages of Better Homes and Gardens and sent it to her scammer.
Three years ago, a 70-year-old engineer sent hundreds of thousands to his scammers. At one point, he received a letter purportedly from the U.S. ambassador to Jamaica asking him to take part in a sting. The man flew to Jamaica, but authorities -- who'd gotten wind of the plan -- met the man at a bank before he wired $50,000 to his scammers' account. The scammers' had planned to kill him shortly after the transfer.
Some of the more sophisticated scammers send mass mailings to tens of thousands of Americans, asking them to fill out a form and send it back if they want to participate in a sweepstakes. The mailings often appear legitimate. The scammers will look at the handwriting of respondents and focus on ones who appear to be elderly.