A lonely woman meets a man online and sends him large chunks of money before realizing the fellow is not who he claims to be.
An elderly man passes along financial information after a late-night caller reports that his grandson is in trouble in Canada.
A widow sends money to a man who contacted her through email, offering her millions of dollars just for helping him move a sizable amount of money out of Nigeria.
It's happening here. In fact, it's happening everywhere.
Old people, young people, men and women, several right in the Lewiston-Auburn area, have fallen victims to these kinds of scams. Police say more schemes are being devised every day.
An uncomfortable number of retirement-age people have lost their life savings. And now a special Senate committee says enough is enough.
"If you or someone you know suspect you've been a victim of a scam or fraud aimed at seniors," began a news release issued Thursday, "the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is the ranking member, has set up a new toll-free hotline to help."
The hotline was unveiled as a way to make it easier for senior citizens to report suspected fraud and to receive assistance. According to the release, the hotline will be staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays by a team of investigators.
The investigators, who have experience with investment scams, identity theft, bogus sweepstakes and lottery schemes, Medicare and Social Security fraud, and a variety of other senior exploitation issues, will directly examine complaints and, if appropriate, refer them to the proper authorities.
Locally, the Lewiston and Auburn police departments, as well as the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Office, routinely send out information on the latest scams to strike the area. Each department has seen its citizens conned out of money.
Last week, the Internal Revenue Service warned the public about a phone scam that targets people across the nation, including recent immigrants. Callers claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service tell intended victims they owe taxes and must pay using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. The scammers threaten those who refuse to pay with arrest, deportation or loss of a business or driver’s license.
As chairman and ranking member of the committee, Collins and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida have made consumer protection and fraud prevention a primary focus of the committee's work. This year, the panel has held hearings examining the impact on seniors of Jamaican lottery scams, tax-related identity theft, Social Security fraud and payday loans.
"If you're contacted about an offer that sounds too good to be true, then it probably is," Nelson said. "This new hotline will give seniors a resource to turn to for assistance if they think they've been victimized or have questions about fraudulent activities."
The hotline's unveiling coincides with the committee's launch of an enhanced, senior-friendly website. The site's new features include large print, simple navigation and an uncluttered layout that enables seniors to find information more easily and conveniently. Online visitors can increase text size, change colors or view a text-only version of the site.
To view the new website, visit www.aging.senate.gov.