U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who chairs the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, has heard countless stories about scammers targeting seniors. Just this week, she said some even tried to target her 88-year-old mother.

“She was prepared … but I worry about the Mainers who are not prepared and who get bullied,” Collins said.

Speaking at an event Wednesday hosted by AARP Maine in Portland, the senator said scammers are increasingly targeting the elderly and are using more sophisticated methods than ever before. Last year alone, she said, elderly Americans lost $2.9 billion to scammers.

“Think of what an extraordinary amount of money that is,” Collins said.

Her committee recently published a resource book for seniors and agencies like AARP that serve seniors and identified the top 10 scams against elders. She also reminded people to report anything suspicious to the national aging fraud hotline.

Last year, more calls to that hotline originated in Maine (189) than any other state. Maryland was the next closest with 124 calls. Collins said Maine’s aging population likely played a role in that high number, but she also said there is more awareness here of the hotline.


The No. 1 scam in the committee’s book has been the IRS scam, in which callers pretend to be IRS workers and demand back tax payments. But Collins said there are others, too. She mentioned the bizarre trend of elderly people being used, unwittingly, as drug mules after developing an online relationship with someone.

One of the people caught up in that scam is a pastor from Dresden, who is now sitting in a Spanish prison. She also discussed the Jamaican lottery scam, which was heavily reported in Maine going back to 2013 and is still prevalent.

AARP Maine conducted a study in 2014 of registered voters aged 50 and older and found that four out of ten have encountered a fraud or scam or know someone else who has in the past five years.

Sgt. Jason Moore with the Auburn Police Department, who also spoke at the AARP Maine event on Wednesday, said the worst part about the scams is that police often can do little to retrieve any of the money once it’s gone. He told the story of one woman who turned over $23,000 – her entire savings – to someone she thought represented the IRS.

Collins said Congress can do more to prevent these types of scams. She said one thing would be to press the Department of Justice to extradite criminals from overseas, where the scams originate, and prosecute them here.

In the meantime, she said the best thing seniors can do is hang up when they get a suspicious call or, better yet, not answer at all. If the caller is legitimate, they will leave a message.

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