BANGOR, Maine — City police are warning residents — especially the elderly— to take steps to protect themselves from telephone scammers.
Earlier this week, police launched investigations into two such cases, Bangor police Sgt. Ed Potter said.
In one case, an elderly man wired $4,000 to the scammers, but police were able to stop the transfer before any money was collected, Potter said.
In the second case, a woman was defrauded of more than $8,000 in two wire transfers. Potter indicated that an attempt to scam another woman living in the same senior citizen complex failed because that target was hard of hearing and the would-be thief apparently got frustrated and hung up.
In both instances where money was transferred, the scammers called the seniors’ home phone numbers claiming to be family members, namely grandchildren.
Typically, the callers say they are in urgent need of money because they were in a car crash, had been arrested or were otherwise down on their luck. The callers convince their targets to send money by a wire service, such as Western Union or MoneyGram, to a code number, rather than a name, so the thieves are able to remain anonymous.
According to Potter, the scammers can sound convincing. In the case of the woman who was bilked out of more than $8,000, the scammer called her “Gram.”
The local man who almost was tricked out of his money received a call from a male who called him “Grampy.” When he asked which grandson was calling, the scammer responded, “I’m the tall one.”
Potter said Bangor police are subpoenaing telephone records to see whether they can determine where the scam calls originated.
Potter said the current wave of telephone scams, which arise in Maine from time to time, isn’t limited to Bangor. He said he has learned that the state police and Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department have received similar complaints.
Potter believes the calls are originating from out of state, possibly Canada. He said a similar scam had been traced to Montreal.
Potter offered the following tips in the hope they might help prevent people in the area from becoming the scammers’ next victim:
• If someone calls claiming to be a family member needing cash, verify that with other relatives.
• Ask for a callback number as additional protection.
• If you are uncomfortable with the call, contact police.
• Use the * 57, or Call Trace, feature on your telephone. The service allows police to identify the caller’s number, regardless of whether the caller blocks the number, according to the California-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Web site.
The feature must be used immediately after the problem call ends. The caller’s number is recorded by the phone company but will not be given to you. You will be asked by the phone company to sign an authorization form before the scammer’s phone number is turned over to law enforcement for further investigation.
Some phone companies require a startup fee, some charge you each time you use * 57, and others require a monthly charge for an unlimited number of traces.