People who run Jamaican lottery scams will stop at nothing to shake people down. Take the example of a woman we’ll call Nancy, who lives in southern Maine.
Nancy had sent the scammers money after the usual promise that payment of a few “fees” would free up the “winnings” from the lottery that she had never entered. After the “fees” came “the taxes,” then “handling expenses,” and on and on … and no money back to her.
Nancy’s family became concerned and convinced her to stop wiring money to faceless people promising riches. They even persuaded her to change her phone number to an unpublished one. But the scammers weren’t through.
They called a local plumber, saying they were family members concerned because they couldn’t reach Nancy; they could get a disposable cellphone to him if he would deliver it. Once she had the phone, Nancy received an angry call from the scammers: Why had she changed her number? And what was her new phone number?
She told them … and the calls continued.
Nancy’s story reflects the extent to which crooks will go to keep a victim on the hook. Scam artists first go to great lengths to convince their victims that they are friends looking out for their best interests. In some cases, they persuade their marks that they know better than friends or family members what’s best, even though the parties have never met.
“They have a reply to everything a person could say to them,” says Jeff Nevins, spokesman for FairPoint Communications.
Earlier this year, Fairpoint teamed up with law enforcement officials, AARP, state attorneys general and federal lawmakers to create a campaign called “Beware: Scams from Area Code 876,” referring to the designation for Jamaica from which 30,000 scam lottery calls originate every day.
As part of the campaign, FairPoint created the website bewareof876.com. It offers the following cautions:
— If a caller says you’ve won a lottery, don’t pay any money to collect; real lotteries don’t work that way.
— Federal law prohibits playing a foreign lottery, so any such call is likely a scam.
— Check any unfamiliar area codes before returning calls. Know that many three-digit area codes might connect to international telephone numbers, especially 876 (809, 284 and 649 are commonly used by scammers pretending to be injured relatives or hawking an overdue bill or cash prize).
— If you don’t make international calls, consider asking your provider to block outgoing international calls. You might add Caller ID, which can give you the option of ignoring suspicious international calls (remember that crooks can “spoof” their phone numbers to fool such devices).
— Never give out your Social Security number, credit card numbers or banking information to callers.
In June, a Jamaican national entered a guilty plea to scamming charges in federal court; he’s believed to be the first person charged. While the Jamaican government is reportedly cracking down on the crime, the sheer volume of calls leaves people -– especially seniors -– vulnerable if they’re not cautious.
If you know someone who has been scammed or suspect you’re a victim, a new hotline set up by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging may help. Committee investigators can be reached from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at 855-303-9470. You also may visit the committee’s website, www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.