MILLINOCKET, Maine — They start with what sounds like really great news. You’ve won a big bunch of money. Prizes await you. If you help tend to a large chunk of cash, usually from overseas, a portion of it will be yours.
Sometimes it’s a problem with your bank account or Individual Retirement Account, a clerical error that needs investigating. But whether it comes by telephone, e-mail or regular mail, you are always required to divulge a critical piece of private information — Social Security, bank account or personal identification numbers — to claim your rewards.
And you must do it now, the voices insist, employing a brisk but everyday manner that assures you of their security and routine nature.
These telephone calls, e-mails or mailings, Police Chief Don Bolduc said Friday, are typically scams, and town residents have been barraged by them.
At least 50 fraudulent attempts to glean money or confidential information from residents have been reported this year, including a half-dozen within the last month, Detective Ron McCarthy said. One, reported to Bolduc on Wednesday, involved callers claiming to be a doctor’s office representative seeking a PIN and Social Security number.
“The callers were persistent,” Bolduc said Friday. “They called a second time, and finally the homeowner just hung up.”
Bolduc warned residents not to release to anyone by mail, e-mail or telephone any money or sensitive information.
“If you see something on the Internet, in the mail or you receive a phone call that you suspect is fraudulent, then it probably is,” McCarthy said. “Contact the Police Department and we will look into it. By all means, do not give out Social Security numbers or dates of birth.”
“Banks will never solicit by telephone or e-mails,” Bolduc said. “We haven’t heard of this [scamming] for a while, but lately we have been getting calls here.”
Police have had some success investigating fraud. Last year they successfully prosecuted a Millinocket woman for fraud and theft by deception after she used Visa traveler’s checks that had fake account numbers to get about $2,700 in goods and money from a local store, Bolduc said.
But most cases, particularly those originating overseas, are all but impossible to solve, Bolduc said. He and McCarthy encouraged residents to seek advice on preventing scams from their financial institutions and by checking the Maine Attorney General’s Office Web site for the latest listing of reported scams.
That address is http://maine.gov/ag/consumer/scams.shtml. People without Web access can call 800-436-2131.