BELFAST — If you’re like many Americans, the odds are high that you’ve been targeted by a scam in your lifetime. Whether it be a social media notification that you’ve won a sizeable portion of money – just click here — or an “old friend” reaching out with the opportunity of a lifetime, scams are everywhere and for every demographic.
One particularly hard hit portion of the population is the elderly, who may not be as aware of the signs that something is a scam. To help the elderly area residents learn to better recognize scams, Waldo County Triad is resurrecting Scam Jam.
The Scam Jam event, which is free for all, is scheduled to take plact Thursday, Oct. 20, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Tarratine Tribe building, 153 Main Street, Belfast.
Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton, who is on the Triad board, said the last time they had the event was in 2018, with the pandemic at least partially to blame for the missed years.
The event gathers experts from differing fields to discuss how to recognize, and not fall victim to scams. This is especially important because given that most scammers operate outside of the United States, meaning U.S. law enforcement agencies are powerless to stop them, or recoup any funds lost by trusting members of the public.
“With technology the way it is, we in law enforcement can’t keep up with all the ways that these professional scammers go after people’s money and victimize especially the senior citizen folks, but not just the senior citizens, they do it to all of us,” Trafton said. “The best strategy that we’ve been able to come up with, nationwide, in law enforcement is to educate the public. That’s why we work with Triad, at the SO.”
The two organizations cohost the Scam Jam events invite as many senior citizens as they can to better equip them with knowledge.
What are some of the scams?
“A popular one that’s going on right now, and I had it tried on me, is somebody you may have went to high school with 40 years ago – you might be friends with them on Facebook, but you don’t hear from them, and all of sudden they say, ‘Hey Jeff, how are you doing?’, and you answer, ‘I’m doing well, how about you?’ They’ll make a little small talk and then say, ‘I have this great opportunity for you, you’re not going to believe the financial opportunity that’s out there.’ That’s a scam. Immediately recognize that’s a scam,” Trafton said.
Another common place scammers find victims is via online dating sites.
“A lot of our population are widows and widowers, and a lot of seniors are online now, using online dating,” he said. “We talk about online dating and how dangerous it can be, but it can also be, if they’re careful, safe if it is done properly. [Then there are] all these social security scams, there are just so many different things and so many different ways.”
Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey will be the first speaker featured at the event, followed by a Bank of America employee who will talk about bank fraud and other related topics.
There will also be an FBI agent familiar with financial crimes, fraud claims and senior citizen fraud and scams.
What to do if you’re a target
“The best thing to do, the first thing to do, is to end it,” said Trafton. “Do not talk to them anymore.”
He added: “The last time it happened to me, I fired a message right back saying ‘this is a scam,’ and [after] that it went silent. There were no more messages.”
As far as tracking would-be scammers, anyone who encounters a scam or scammer can contact police so that law enforcement can enter it into a database.
“There is also a website that the gentleman from the FBI will talk about where they track all these scams and sometimes they are able to have an impact,” he said. “But many times [the scammers] are coming from outside of the United States. We just don’t have the technology to track them.”
When and where
The 2022 Scam Jam is scheduled to take place Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Tarratine Tribe building at 153 Main Street in Belfast.
“The building holds a couple hundred people so we have plenty of space and everyone is welcome,” said Trafton. “It is going to be focused on seniors. It is absolutely free and we’ll have coffee, tea, and some refreshments there for folks.”
The Tarratine building has a good sound system, he said, enabling seniors to hear the presenters.
“People are being scammed, and a lot of the time it never gets reported to the police,” he said. “Sometimes people are scared, but quite often they’re embarrassed they’ve been scammed. There are a lot of people losing a lot of money.”
He illustrated with an incident involving an elderly Belfast woman in her 90s, whose life savings consisted of approximately $24,000.
“The scammers got the whole $24,000, and there was nothing we could do,” he said. “We couldn’t get them [and] we couldn’t get her money back for her. It was awful.”
Erica Thoms can be reached at email@example.com