A woman in Cape Elizabeth received a phone call last month from a man who said he was a sergeant with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department.

The man said there was a warrant out for her arrest because she had failed to appear for jury duty. To avoid going to jail, he advised, she could pay a $500 fine.

Suspecting it was a scam, the woman hung up and reported the call to the Cape Elizabeth Police Department. It turned out that it was indeed a scam, and the sheriff’s office had received other reports of similar calls.

“She did the right thing,” said Paul Fenton, Cape Elizabeth’s police chief. “When it comes to phone scams, we recommend the three Rs: Recognize it’s a scam and hang up. Report it to the FTC and local authorities. And register with the National Do Not Call Registry.”

Many Mainers are doing the right thing. Maine has the fourth-highest rate of residents who have signed up with the National Do Not Call Registry, after New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Maine had 1.1 million active registrations in 2019, or 85,466 registrations per 100,000 residents, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s latest Do Not Call Data Book. Nationwide, there were 239.5 million active registrations last year, an average of 68,428 registrations per 100,000 residents.

Maine ranks 38th in the nation for complaints to the FTC about unwanted calls.

Mainers submitted 18,121 complaints to the FTC in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2019. That’s 1,354 complaints per 100,000 residents. Mainers reported a high of 29,495 unwanted calls in 2017.

Most of the complaints from Mainers in 2019 – 12,758 reported calls, or 70 percent – were about automated “robocalls,” while 5,016 complaints were about live calls and 347 didn’t stipulate the type of call.

The most frequent complaints from Mainers last year were about debt-reduction schemes (2,349), followed by impostor calls (1,686), medical and prescription scams (1,666), warranty protection (533), computer and technical support (510), work-from-home opportunities (195), vacation and time-share offers (183), lotteries, prizes and sweepstakes scams (49) and solar and other utilities (46).

Fenton, the police chief, acknowledged that it can be difficult to tell when a call is a scam. His department holds information sessions for seniors at the public library, but people of all ages can fall prey. Residents of smaller communities may be especially vulnerable if they’re used to trusting people.

“It’s not always the elderly who get scammed,” he said.

Scammers often make use of new technology and regularly shift their approach to avoid being caught. Some callers may seem pushy or threatening, while others may seem too nice or say they represent respected organizations, such as local law enforcement or school sports teams.

“No one credible is going to call and ask you for money or personal information like your Social Security number or bank account number,” Fenton said.

One rule of thumb is to never answer a call from a number that you don’t recognize. However, some scammers use technology that allows them to mimic familiar numbers, even your own, which is known as caller ID spoofing.

Last year, the Maine Legislature passed a law that banned certain types of telephone solicitors from using recorded messages and misleading caller identification. But unwanted and potentially damaging calls still occur.

“You have to be vigilant and always be looking for cues,” Fenton said.

The first line of defense is to register your phone number with the national registry at donotcall.gov or 1-888-382-1222. Complaints about unwanted calls can be submitted the same way.

If you believe you have been scammed, call the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation at 1-877-624-8551 or the Maine Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-436-2131. The Attorney General’s Office also offers consumer scam information on its website.

Maine Legal Services for the Elderly also provides free legal help to Mainers age 60 and older at 1-800-750-5353.


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