CAPE ELIZABETH – FairPoint Communications and Maine law enforcement agencies launched a campaign Wednesday to stop telephone scammers operating out of Jamaica from swindling money from elderly residents.

FairPoint officials said con artists are calling from a Jamaica area code and telling their intended victims that they’ve won a Jamaican lottery prize or a car, but need to pay money upfront to cash in.

“In many cases the scammer befriends the victim, going as far as professing their love, intent to marry or even praying with them,” said FairPoint Senior Manager of Security Larry Caruso in a written release. “Once a victim is scammed out of money for the first time, the scammers work to get more and more money, including access to bank accounts and credit card information.”

Fairpoint, the largest landline telephone company in northern New England, the York County Sheriff’s Office and the Cape Elizabeth Police Department announced the campaign at a press conference Wednesday. Both law enforcement agencies have investigated individual scams. Authorities in Vermont and New Hampshire are conducting their own investigations.

Sandra Raymond of Arundel said one of her relatives sent more than $140,000 to the scammers.

“These people are cruel and relentless in the way they deal with a senior,” she said. “They threaten, lie and coerce, while at the same time, they act like a friend and say they are just trying to help.”

Major Bill King of the York County Sheriff’s Office said it is important for people who have been victimized to let family members and law enforcement know about it.

“Even after realizing they’ve been deceived, some elderly victims are embarrassed or afraid to tell their family, friends or law enforcement,” he said.

Officials say the perpetrators have called some victims hundreds of times to squeeze as much money out of them as possible. They also work to isolate seniors from family members.

King has described one case in which the thieves convinced a woman to change her telephone number, making it harder for family members to communicate with her while the scam was going on.

The campaign, called “Beware: Scams from Area Code 876,” includes tips to prevent phone scams. The information can be found at www.bewareof876.com.

The site recommends:

nasking seniors if they’ve received suspicious calls;

nencouraging seniors to beware of calls from the 876 area code and other international numbers;

nadding caller ID to an elderly relative’s phone lines, which will allow them to reject suspicious international calls.

The crime can be challenging for local agencies to investigate, but now a federal task force has been assembled under the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Consumer Litigation to target the abuse, King said.

FairPoint also has technology that recognizes suspicious international calls and the company notifies customers if they have received a lot of them, said a company spokesman.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]