The scammers almost had them. Then came Officer Smedberg.

The couple had put all of their money in gift cards and given the numbers to the person on the other end of the phone, who told them to wait at the Waterville city airport for their millions of dollars in winnings.

They were about to lose it all, until Waterville police Officer Linda Smedberg, alerted by the airport manager, stepped in, convincing them that no money was coming, and calling the gift card companies to save what money they could.

The couple were left with enough for a couple of mortgage payments, but many others haven’t been so lucky.

Scammers go after everyone, but seniors are the most targeted. According to the FBI, seniors lost almost $1 billion to scams in 2020 — that’s more than 105,000 seniors taken advantage of, with almost 2,000 losing more than $100,000 in savings.

The scam that brought the couple to the Waterville airport is a common one. Known as a lottery or sweepstakes scam, victims are convinced they will get a big payout as long as they can pay the taxes or fees, which the scammer asks for in hard-to-trace gift cards.

Other times, the scammer uses a fake online identity to build trust with the victim, before using some cover story to get funds. Other times, they offer goods they never deliver, or tech support for supposedly buggy computers. Sometimes they threaten jail, or say that a loved one needs help, then ask for money.

Just this week, the Maine Secretary of State’s Office warned residents to watch for text messages claiming to be from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, sent to unsuspecting Mainers in order to get personal information or expose their devices to malware.

There are a million ways to reach people now, and scammers have found every one of them.

Still, there is a lot one can do to stay protected from scammers. The Maine Attorney General’s Office has a guide for identifying potential scams, as does the FBI. The AARP Fraud Watch Network is available for free online or at 877-908-3360.

In general, know that no legitimate call will ask you for your Social Security number or to pay in gift cards. You shouldn’t have to pay anything to get a prize. Never give out personal information. Be careful what you download. Be wary of unsolicited phone calls, emails, texts and visits to your door.

More than anything, just take a moment before responding to any overtures. Scammers depend on speed and urgency, pushing you to act before you think about what’s really going on.

If someone is imploring you to act, immediately, right now, this second, then it’s probably not aboveboard. Better to hang up, then check in with one of the resources above.

Because not everyone has an Officer Smedberg.


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