By Ramona du Houx
In reaction to the proliferation of scams and frauds throughout the state, AARP Maine worked in collaboration with the Portland Police Department to host a half-day training workshop designed to heighten awareness among first responders. The workshops were packed with over 100 participants, including police officers, legislators, representatives from state agencies, senior centers, and others.
“Our aging population is being taken advantage of by these scammers, and it's time we arm ourselves with the knowledge to stop this from happening,” said Lieutenant Glen McGary of the Portland Police Department. “Working together with other departments in the state, and using effective presentations such as those we learned today at the AARP Maine workshop, we can broaden our reach in our own communities to mobilize Maine fraud fighters everywhere.”
The state’s first Fraud Watch Maine: Mobilizing for Effective Scam Prevention training offered three field-tested presentations tackling several topics: The Con Artist Playbook and Commons Scams in Maine, Mail Fraud and Lottery Scams, and Cyber Security.
“The goal of our workshop is to make each presentation easily replicable so that participants can deliver the same or slightly modified presentations in their own communities,” said Jane Margesson, Communications Director with AARP Maine, who ran the Con Artist Palybook presentation. “With representatives in attendance today from many organizations, agencies, and law enforcement, we hope to broaden outreach efforts to effectively combat scams and fraud in our state.”
Every year, millions of Americans lose billions of dollars to scams and fraud. As is the case in many states, identity theft tops of the list of crimes in Maine.
“All scams are designed for a single purpose -- to separate you from your money. It is vital that consumers know and trust the people to whom they are sending money because if it’s fraud, they will never see their money again,” said retired US Postal Inspector Michael Desrosiers
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were more than 500 reported cases of identity theft in the state in 2013. Legislation designed to safeguard a person’s credit report through the placement of a credit freeze was enacted on October 15, 2015 and participants received information about this important proactive measure. Because a credit freeze safeguards a person’s credit report, it is one of the most effective ways to protect consumers from identity theft. The bill was introduced by AARP Maine and sponsored by Senator Rod Whittemore.
“As with many other crooks, cyber criminals are usually after the money,” said Professor Edward Sihler, Technical Director of the Maine Cyber Security Cluster, an organization sponsored by the University of Maine System. “If they can't get use your credit card, maybe they can empty your bank account or file a false tax return. Thus it is important to guard your passwords, account information and your identity.”
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network (FWN), a national initiative, arms Americans with the tools they need to spot and avoid fraud and scams so they can protect themselves and their families. Anyone, of any age, can access FWN resources at no cost.
In Maine, AARP staff and volunteers regularly deliver scam awareness presentations and work in collaboration with the Maine Council on Aging, law enforcement, community leaders and other organizations to combat fraud and scams in the state.
In 2014, AARP Maine released a survey of Maine registered voters age 50 and older which included statistics concerning residents’ experiences with scams. According to the survey, four out of ten registered voters in Maine age 50 and older have encountered a fraud or scam or know someone else who has in the past five years.
“Identity theft, investment fraud and scams rob millions of Americans of their hard-earned money every year,” said Margesson. “Through events like our scam prevention training, we can raise awareness about these crimes and work together to empower Mainers and their families as fraud fighters.”
Earlier this year, AARP Maine hosted a “Scam Jam” at the Augusta Civic center with over 300 Mainers in attendance.
On November 12th, AARP hosted a free shredding event in collaboration with the Farmington Police Department, and Attorney General Janet Mills made an appearance.
“Securely disposing of sensitive documents is a good way to keep personal information out of the hands of identity thieves,” said Margesson.