Remember when answering the phone meant pleasant conversation or at the very least, important information? It was just family and friends communicating in a simple, convenient way. The ring had an air of mystery as you never knew who was on the other end of the line.
As the world and technology has changed, so has the safety of answering the phone.
Enter the Jamaicans. You may have heard by now that there is a Jamaican lottery scam, circulating currently, that has bilked Maine seniors out of tens of thousands of dollars. It has become so serious that FairPoint Communications has partnered with law enforcement agencies and senior organizations to increase awareness about this scam and to try and stop it. The calls that have been targeting seniors are originating from the Jamaican 876 area code.
“Seniors are told by an excited caller that they have won the Jamaican lottery but before the winnings can be released, they just need to send a processing or transfer fee,” said Chief Deputy Troy Morton, Penobscot County Sheriff’s Dept. and chair of Penobscot County Triad. “This can be thousands of dollars. Once the senior sends the money, the scammers know they have a victim and the calls increase with more and more money being demanded. The calls can also become threatening and abusive until the senior is afraid not to comply.”
The cost can be alarming. An elderly man in N.H. lost $85,000 to one of these scams. FairPoint has set up a website,www.bewareof876.com to help educate and inform the public. It is worth a look. The following tips are from their website:
• If you get a call saying you’re a winner, do not pay any money in order collect your supposed sweepstakes winnings. Legitimate operations won’t require a fee to collect the prize.
• It’s against federal law to play a foreign lottery, so if you get a call it is more than likely a scam.
• Never wire money to anyone you don’t know.
• Never provide anyone with personal information such as bank accounts, pin numbers or Social Security numbers.
• Check any unfamiliar area codes before returning calls.
• Be aware that there are many three-digit area codes that connect callers to international telephone numbers. This is especially true of 876. This is not a toll-free number but is often mistaken for one.
• If you do not have Caller ID, consider adding it to your phone service. Caller ID allows you to add a Call Intercept feature that screens calls and offers the option to reject suspicious international calls.
• If you do not make international calls, ask your telephone provider to block outgoing international calls.
• Contact your local law enforcement, the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Dept. at 947-4585, or FairPoint Communications at 866-641-7475 to report a potential scam.
“Secrecy plays a role too, and can be a good scam alert,” said Morton. “The scammers insist their victims not tell anyone, including family, about their winnings, suggesting instead that the win should be a surprise. It will be a surprise alright.”
The scammers also claim to be in the area and offer to come by the senior’s home to deliver the winnings after the fees are paid. Regardless of what the caller says, no one is coming to your house to deliver you anything. They are not even in the US. They sound convincing because they can find local landmarks on the internet.
The best defense is to let 876 numbers go unanswered or to hang up immediately when the caller claims you have won a prize. Unfortunately they can be persistent but don’t be worn down. And call the authorities immediately if you receive such a call.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, or visit www.EAAA.org.