WASHINGTON — The Senate Special Committee on Aging plans to investigate the Jamaica-based telephone scams that have bilked some Maine senior citizens out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who is the ranking minority member of the committee, said the panel plans to hold hearings on a variety of scams targeting senior citizens, including the “Jamaican lottery” scam that has victimized elders in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Collins’ announcement came on the same day that the Federal Trade Commission was in Maine to hold two forums aimed at helping Maine consumers avoid being scammed. Medicare fraud and the lottery or sweepstakes scams were expected to be major topics at the forums in Auburn on Thursday morning and then a subsequent event at the Scarborough Town Hall from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
In the “Jamaican lottery” scam – so named because most of the calls originate from Jamaica, which has an “876” area code – individuals are told that they have won the lottery, a car or other large prize. But to claim it, they must pay a fee.
The scammers then cultivate the victim’s trust, sometimes calling them at night or on holidays to check in while assuring them that the prize is on its way. But they repeatedly ask for more money or gain access to bank accounts. Some Maine residents have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Authorities estimate that scammers in Jamaica are making as many as 30,000 calls a day to the United States.
“Our parents and grandparents worked hard their entire lives and saved for retirement. They should be enjoying their ‘golden years,’ and they should not be being targeted by criminals who want to rob them of their hard-earned savings and investments,” Collins said in a statement. “Our committee intends to take a close look at several scams that are targeting elderly people, not only to raise awareness, but also to discuss ways we can help people avoid becoming a victim.”
Local and state law enforcement agencies as well as representatives for FairPoint Communications have also been heavily involved in trying to stop the scammers while raising public awareness among Maine’s elderly population.