Kennebunk Police Department and the town’s Committee on Aging are distributing this pamphlet to warn people that scams are on the increase. Courtesy image/Kennebunk Police

KENNEBUNK — Those who attempt to scam thousands of dollars from the unwitting, or gain personal information for later use,  have not taken a holiday during the pandemic – and in at least one known case in York County, is seeking to benefit from it.

The silver-tongued folks who turn on the charm to convince the unwary they’ve won a big prize, or scare them into thinking one of their relatives is hurt and needs cash are very much in business.

Police agencies say scam activity is ticking up and warm folks not to give out personal information over the phone – none. In fact, they say, don’t engage – hang up.

“We are facing a time where many of our residents are feeling isolation which can lead to great loneliness and increased vulnerability,” said Candice Simeoni, the elder crimes, community liaison and court officer for the Kennebunk Police Department. “The implications of COVID have increased these calls to our residents.

“Scammers also know so many people are home these days and more apt to answer the phone. What people don’t realize is that from the moment they pick up the phone, information is being gathered. These scammers are career criminals and great manipulators and are looking for those willing to pick up the phone and talk to them. They may not gather what they are looking for at first, but they are adamant; they will either sell your number as a working number or they will call again themselves. The believability of these thieves can be crippling for those who fall into their manipulation; not only financially but it also weakens their morale.”

In rural York County, two people reported being called by scammers in as many days; one on Jan. 19, another a day later. One individual in Waterboro told York County Sheriff’s Office deputies that a caller had told her he was from Medicare and that the government was issuing supplemental cards to take care of COVID-related expenses. She was convinced she could lose money if she didn’t provide information – and so she did. She eventually hung up, but not before giving her address and other information.

A day later, on Jan. 20, a Limington woman lost $1,000 after scammers called to say she’d won $5.5 million and a Mercedes Benz and that they would deliver the car to her the following day. She was instructed to buy two $500 VISA cards, which would cover fees associated with her winnings. She did, and then was told to withdraw $9,500 to cover taxes. She didn’t, and sheriff’s deputies are investigating.

In Kennebunk, Simeoni said police have recently received information about various scams including the “grandparent” scenario, where someone claiming to be a grandchild hurt in an accident, or arrested and needing money, attempts to convince their “grandparent” to fork over cash; then there’s  the social security office scam, and the well-known “you won” scams.

Simeoni frequently speaks to groups about scams and how people can protect themselves, but with the pandemic, the group meetings have come to a halt.

“I am trying to find ways to continue educating and reminding our community about these scams,” said Simeoni. “I am thankful that the Kennebunk Committee on Aging has agreed to help me with dispersing information to their outlets. VISTA Intern Cara Soucie is helping with the community initiative as well.”

She said she plans to issue information on a regular basis in the hope that people read and benefit from it.

“We live and work in a great community and it’s disheartening to have these conversations with our residents who have already sent money to these scammers,” said Simeoni. “Once a wire transaction or a gift card number is sent … it is gone. My ultimate hope is by working together and sharing knowledge, we can stop this before it starts and save our community from these thieves.”

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