Thursday, December 12, 2013
The Associated Press
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Kim Nichols says she thought her retired airline pilot father living in New Hampshire was too smart and fiscally conservative to fall victim to a telephone scam.
But $85,000 in losses and three family interventions later, she remains stunned and saddened.
Nichols pleaded with senior citizens gathered at the William B. Cashin Senior Activity Center in downtown Manchester on Thursday to be alert to the scam dubbed "Area Code 876" — a Jamaican area code. FairPoint Communications, AARP volunteers and law enforcement officials who coordinated the educational seminar say the scam targets older people, particularly in northern New England.
Nichols, who was invited to speak at the seminar, said her father is 76, lives in West Ossipee and is "very educated, very smart and very, very careful about his money."
"The fact that my Dad is a victim of this scam has blown all our minds in my family," Nichols said.
Officials say the scam operates much like other phone scams that advise would-be victims they've won cars or cash, but must send money to cover transfer fees, transportation or taxes. But the 876 scammers are particularly sophisticated — doing demographic research to pinpoint wealthier people through property and other public records — and come on with a soft sell initially, officials say.
Patrick McHugh, president of FairPoint Communications in New Hampshire, called the 876 scheme "dangerous and pervasive."
"They prey upon your trust, then exploit it and steal your money," McHugh told about 30 people attending the seminar. "These callers are relentless."
Nichols said her father's ordeal began in February, but he remained secretive and evasive about his relationship with "Diane" and other scammers who persisted in phoning him for months.
"I'm sure he was very, very ashamed," said Nichols. "There really is an element of brainwashing with this."
Nichols, who lives in Herman, Maine, did not want to identify her father by name for fear he would be targeted again. She said she twice thought she'd convinced him it was a scam, only to find him again talking to "Diane" and sending her money because she was supposedly losing her job. That prompted Nichols to go through her father's home while he was at church to gather his credit card statements and other financial records. She said she was staggered to find a stack of plastic gift cards with thousands of dollars in credit on them.
She brought her father to talk with law enforcement officials in Portland, Maine, to hear the tale of a another person targeted by the scam. Nichols' brother flew in from Manhattan. She said her father recognized the similarities between the Maine resident's story and his own.
Nichols said that one of the scammers called FairPoint pretending to be her father to try to get his phone number changed. FairPoint — alerted to her father's plight and trying to assist — recorded the phone call. When the scammer couldn't relay the password Nichols had placed on the account, he provided her father's Social Security number and date of birth. When her father had his service stopped, the scammers sent him cell phones.
"These are ruthless people," she said. "We're just waiting with our breath held, hoping it doesn't happen again."
McHugh urged participants to not answer 876 calls if they show up on caller ID and to warn friends and relatives about the scam. Senior Assistant State Attorney James Boffetti warned them not to wire money to anyone they don't know.
"Once money is sent, it's nearly impossible to get it back," Boffetti said.
He said it's also difficult to identify the perpetrators for criminal prosecution and he was not optimistic his office would be able to find them.