|By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff - Sunday, June 5, 2016 - 16-06-05
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BANGOR, Maine -- Senior citizens lose $2.9 billion every year to scam artists, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins told more than 250 people who attended an event designed to help senior citizens avoid being the victims of financial exploitation schemes.
Collins was joined by Will Lund, superintendent of the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, Sgt. Kyle Willette of the Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit and members of local law enforcement at a forum called Scam Jam. Sponsored by the Maine AARP, it was designed to raise public awareness about scams that target seniors and strategies they can use to avoid becoming victims.
"The scams will never stop, the scammers will just change their tactics," Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton told the attendees. "Our challenge is that the scammers are not in your town, they most often are not in our county and are often overseas."
Collins, who co-chaired the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, said Wednesday that the hotline created by the committee to report scams received 153 calls Tuesday, a record for the number received in one day.
Each attendee received a copy of the committee's report that lists the top 10 scams that target the elderly. They are:
- IRS impersonation scam.
- Lottery or sweepstakes scams.
- Unsolicited or unwanted phone calls.
- Computer scams.
- Identity theft.
- Grandparent scams.
- Elder financial abuse.
- Government grant scam.
- Romance scam.
- Home improvement scam.
The most reported scam was one in which imposters pretended to be IRS agents and threatened to jail individuals who did not immediately wire money to the callers for back taxes they did not actually owe.
"It is estimated that [the IRS impersonation scam] has cost innocent victims who did not owe any back taxes more than $36 million, averaging more than $5,700 per victim," Collins said.
She said that the committee's investigation last year helped raise public awareness about the IRS scam.
"When we first began this investigation, it was estimated that the IRS imposters reeled in one victim for every 60 threatening phone calls," she said. "Now, thanks to increased public awareness, it takes a con artist 400 calls to trick someone into falling for this scam. Still, that is far too many victims."
Collins urged people who were called by scammers to report it to local police and her committee's hotline or the AARP's Fraud Watch Network.
"Prevention is the best tool that we have," she said. "My hope is that this forum will give our seniors new tools to prevent themselves from being victims and help them protect other seniors from being victims.
Ted Jellison said that the forum had taught him "to be more vigilant."
"It heightens your awareness about what's out there and reminds you to be alert and not respond emotionally to the scammer," he said of the opening session and Collins' message.
Fran Day of Bangor said that she attended the forum to become more educated about scams.
"I get calls frequently," she said during a break. "I used to say, 'Goodbye,' and hang up. Then, I just hung up. Now, I don't answer the phone if I don't know the number [calling me]. And, isn't it a shame. It's become so invasive."
For more information on avoiding scams aimed at seniors, visit aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.
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