Every year, millions of Americans are targeted by fraudulent calls and scams. In 2018, the Better Business Bureau estimated that nearly half of the American public had been solicited by these calls, with one in ten having had money stolen from them. I have compiled a list of helpful resources below for those who have been targeted by scams so that Mainers might be able to better prevent and combat these scams. If you need any assistance, please do not hesitate to call my Portland office at (207) 774-5019.
The Portland Press Herald put it well in a recent editorial:
“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.”
Some details about common scams are below. For more on common scams and crimes, visit this website from the FBI, or visit the IRS' site about tax and monetary scams here.
- Charity and Disaster Fraud: Charity fraud schemes seek donations for organizations that do little or no work—instead, the money goes to the fake charity’s creator. While these scams can happen at any time, they are especially prevalent after high-profile disasters.
- Credit Card Fraud: Credit card fraud is the unauthorized use of a credit or debit card, or similar payment tool (ACH, EFT, recurring charge, etc.), to fraudulently obtain money or property. Credit and debit card numbers can be stolen from unsecured websites or can be obtained in an identity theft scheme. Visit the FBI's Identity Theft webpage for additional information.
- Elder Fraud: Each year, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme, including romance, lottery, and sweepstakes scams, to name a few. Criminals will gain their targets’ trust and may communicate with them directly via computer, phone, and the mail; or indirectly through the TV and radio. Once successful, scammers are likely to keep a scheme going because of the prospect of significant financial gain.
- Identity Theft: Identity theft occurs when someone uses your identity in a crime or fraudulent act. It can happen to anyone—but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and to recover if it happens to you.
- Internet Fraud: Internet fraud is the use of Internet services or software with Internet access to defraud victims or to otherwise take advantage of them. Internet crime schemes steal millions of dollars each year from victims and continue to plague the Internet through various methods.
- Romance Scams: Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim. The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable. Con artists are present on most dating and social media sites. The scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money.
- Robocalls: Illegal and spoofed robocalls and unwanted calls are one of the FCC's top complaints. Read more on how to stop and avoid unwanted phone scams here.
For comprehensive information on how to identify scams or fraudulent calls or what to do if you receive one, please visit the Maine Attorney General’s Office’s website or call 207-626-8800.
For resources on reporting fraudulent calls or scams, please see below:
Maine Consumer Protection Division: 207-626-8849 or 800-436-2131
Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-382-4357
Federal Bureau of Investigation Internet Crime Complaint Center
If your identity has been stolen by a scam, in addition to calling your local police department and reporting the theft, you may contact the Federal Trade Commission, Identity Theft Reporting at 1-877-438-4338 or 1-866-653-4261.