Jessica Hall, Staff Writer
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William King, the chief deputy of the York County Sheriff’s Office, has visited senior centers from Kittery to Belfast to warn elders about the risk of scammers calling with promises of lottery winnings or sweepstakes prizes.

Despite protests from seniors that they would never fall for such scams, King explains the reality: Federal officials estimate that Jamaican lottery scam artists steal $300 million a year, primarily from senior citizens in the United States, including seniors in Maine.

“It’s taken away people’s sanity and well-being,” King said. “It makes self-sufficient seniors no longer self-sufficient. The stress causes financial, medical and emotional problems.”

King, 60, got involved in protecting seniors from scammers after learning about a woman in Arundel who lost about $100,000 through a lottery swindle. An investigation traced the victim’s money to Jamaica.

“I was outraged. It affects the most vulnerable of our population – seniors,” King said. “Often due to mild cognitive impairment, these seniors are making decisions they wouldn’t make in their younger years.”

King has testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. He also joined with officials from FairPoint Communications, which delivers voice and data communications, at a forum in New Kingston, Jamaica, about strategies to combat the scam. King also has been asked to train other Maine police officers on how to notice the signs of elder scams, prevent such problems from happening and how to pursue cases if a scammer succeeds in exploiting an elder.

King is now developing a public service announcement with the message of “Just Hang Up” to urge seniors to hang up the phone on unsolicited callers, especially strangers who are promising lottery winnings or sweepstakes prizes.

“I feel like I’ve helped a lot of people,” King said. “I feel like I did well in getting the word out.”