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Maine Initiative Takes Aim at Fraud Schemes Targeting Elderly
10/03/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter

If you get a call informing you that you've won the Canadian lottery, be warned: It's probably a scam, one of several types of fraudulent schemes currently being used to target Mainers. Another one involves a new federal government assistance program supposedly intended to help people pay their utility bills. There's no such utility program. Maine officials are now fighting back with a new initiative called the DASH fraud program.

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Maine Initiative Takes Aim at Fraud Schemes Target Listen
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Originally Aired: 10/3/2012 12:00 PM

Maine Attorney General William Schneider explains how the utility scam works.

"To receive a credit or apply a payment to a utility bill, consumers were asked to provide their Social Security and bank routing numbers. In return they were given a phoney bank routing number that supposedly paid their utility bills. In reality there was no money and customers believed they had paid their bills when in fact they had not," Schneider says.

All the customers had succeeding in doing was giving personal details to con artists who can then set about ripping them off.

Such scams are on the increase nationwide. According to research released earlier this year, 2011 saw a 13 percent increase in the number of adult Americans being defrauded, at a cost of more than $18 billion.

Now, a group of Maine businesses, non-profits, law enforcement and state officials have decided to take action. On Wednesday morning at a news conference in Saco, Attorney General Schneider was among the speakers announcing the formation of the Maine Fraud Prevention Alliance.

To help ordinary Mainers avoid falling victim to fraud, the Alliance has launched the DASH program. As Schneider explains, it's an acronym, with the letters D-A-S-H containing some helpful advice.

"'Delete' emails that you don't know where they're from; 'ask' for permits from door-to-door salesmen; 'shred' junk mail - and that's really good advice so that somebody can't go through your garbage and get things like credit card applications and stuff like that; and 'hang up' on unsolicited calls," he says.

Eileen Whynot is with the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, an alliance member whose mission is to look out for the interests of vulnerable older people. "Maine has been a target," she says. "We do have more seniors in our state than others, and so we've seen a lot of very sophisticated fraud."

"This has been a mainstay for a long-time, the door-to-door itinerant sales people," says Saco Police Chief Brad Paul. Paul says many of these con artists talk elderly people into agreeing to have expensive and unnecessary maintenance work carried out.

"Now we're getting into the fall season, so people need to be particularly aware of the folks that are out there driving around that will pull into your yard and say, 'Gee we've noticed you have a tree overhanging your wires. If that takes out your power, you're going to be without power,'" Paul says. "They prey on elderly people because elderly people really worry about things like the power going out, or not having phone services, or the furnace going out."

Paul says he had a call this week from a police chief 200 miles away in northern Maine about an elderly couple who had been fleeced to the tune of several thousand dollars by a couple of bogus door-to-door salespeople who had driven up from Saco in search of victims.

But Attorney General Schneider says it's not just the elderly and the vulnerable who can fall victim to fraud. "I've been the victim of identity theft," he says. "About probably 10 years or so ago, someone came by and stole my mail from my mailbox and tried to clean out my bank account, and it was a mess."

Not all of the cons are successful. The one that tried to steal Schneider's identity ended spending several years in a federal prison. The Maine Fraud Prevention Alliance will be making DASH fraud kits available later this month.

Get more details on the program.



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