For some elderly who live alone, the telephone is truly a lifeline – especially if there are few visitors to break up the monotony of a day spent all alone. We all know someone in that situation, whose family and friends are too busy or live too far away to make a personal visit. In these cases, a telephone call, no matter who it’s from, can provide “company” and alleviate that all-alone feeling.

These people can be, and often are, the target for scams. That ringing telephone provides the way. We have heard from elderly who have spent hours on the phone with criminals whose only goal is to take all the money a trusting senior citizen may have.

In her most recently weekly column, Sen. Susan Collins tells of a new anti-fraud hotline that may help:

“Older Americans are being financially exploited by strangers over the telephone and in the mail. Too often, they also may be targeted by family members or by people they trust. All too often, these crimes go unreported because the victim is too afraid or embarrassed. As ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I, along with Chairman Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), have made consumer protection and fraud prevention a primary focus of our committee’s work. One particularly egregious scam was the focus of a hearing earlier this year. It’s often referred to as the 876 scam because the phone calls originate from an 876 area code based in Jamaica. The scammer tells the victim that they’ve just won millions of dollars in a lottery or sweepstakes and a brand new car. All they have to do to collect is wire a few hundred dollars in upfront processing fees or ‘taxes’ and their winnings will be delivered.

”Often, the criminals will tell their elderly victims not to share the good news with anyone so that it will come as a surprise when their family finds out. Of course, no such winnings are ever delivered, because no such winnings exist. The elderly ‘winners’ get nothing but more phone calls – sometimes 50 or 100 calls per day – from scammers demanding more and more money. Behind these calls is an organized and sophisticated criminal enterprise, overseeing boiler room operations in Jamaica. Some Mainers have lost more than $100,000 to this scam.

“Our committee investigation drew international attention. Shortly after our public hearing, the new government in Jamaica finally passed new laws targeting scammers. I was also notified that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in New York had arrested four individuals in connection with the fraudulent lottery scam. While this is encouraging, the problem still exists.

“Our committee recently established a new, toll-free hotline to help. The hotline will make it easier for senior citizens, or others, to report suspected fraud and receive assistance. It will be staffed by a team of committee investigators weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Anyone with information about suspected fraud can call the toll-free fraud hotline at 1-855-303-9470, or contact our committee through our website,”

Kay Soldier welcomes reader ideas for column topics of interest to seniors. She can be reached by email at [email protected], or write to 114 Tandberg Trail, Windham, ME 04062.

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