PORTLAND – The phone rings. You pick up and say “Hello.”

No one’s there.

It could be a “mystery phone call scam,” according to Maine AARP and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. Collins and AARP leaders held a news conference Wednesday to release a top 10 list of ways seniors are getting scammed.

Collins called the phone scams “an epidemic.”

As chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, protecting older adults is one of Collins’ highest priorities, she said Wednesday during the news conference with Maine AARP President Rich Livingston.

Collins’ committee is releasing a new publication, “Fighting Fraud: U.S. Senate Aging Committee Identifies Top 10 Scams Targeting Our Nation’s Seniors” to help protect older adults from malicious scams and frauds.


One of the top 10 is the mystery phone call where the person answers and no one is there. An automated computer system is actually adding the response to a master list it is creating. Just by picking up the phone, the computer identifies the phone number as a viable target for scammers.

Experts recommend letting calls  go to voice mail for screening.

Then there’s the IRS scam which happened Wednesday to Maxine Teague of New Gloucester.

The phone rings, you pick up and the caller says they’re from the IRS and you owe money.

“At that point I laughed,” Teague said. “I had seen in the paper they were scams.” She knows the IRS doesn’t make calls.

AARP’s Livingston agreed. “If the message says you owe back taxes, it’s not real. If they leave a voice mail, it’s fraud.”


At the news conference Wednesday, Lewiston Police Department Sgt. Jason Moore spoke about a local resident scammed by a fake IRS agent.

Often that kind of crime is beyond the reach of local police, Moore said. “That’s why partnering with Sen. Collins and the AARP is so important.” Working with the AARP, they can spread awareness of scams to stop seniors from being victimized, Moore said.

Phone scams often target seniors, Livingston said, “because seniors are more vulnerable, are more likely to answer a phone and more likely to engage in a conversation. Many of the scam callers are trained to engage in conversation.

Sometimes seniors live alone, are isolated and will respond to any phone call, Livingston said. He recommends not answering the phone. “Let it go to voice mail. Screen your calls. If the call is legitimate, they will leave a message.”

And, he warned, some victims are getting calls that look real, they looked like the federal government or the Auburn Police Department on caller ID. “None of these agencies are going to call you. Avoid the calls,” Livingston said.

Identify theft, investment fraud and scams rob millions of Americans of hard-earned money every year, Livingston said. Collins praised AARP for fighting the growing epidemic of scams and vowed to continue to “combat this scourge and protect our seniors from fraud.”


Another top 10 fraud is sweepstakes. Last winter Madeleine LeBlanc of Lewiston, then 90, was a target, but did the right thing and avoided being scammed, police said.

LeBlanc got a call from a man telling her she won $1.5 million and a Mercedes, that in the afternoon they would escort her to her bank so she could pay them $750 to collect the car and money.

LeBlanc knew it was a scam and hung up on the man. Police called her savvy and smart.

“Never, never give out your bank number, your checking account number. Do not wire any money,” Lt. Mike McGonagle said. “You need to be firm and say ‘I’m not interested’ and hang up.”




AARP — http://www.aarp.org

U.S. Senate Aging Committee publication — online at http://www.aging.senate.gov/; Sen. Collins’ office at 202-224-2523; Sen. Collins’ website at http://www.collins.senate.gov/

Top 10 scams targeting seniors

1. Mystery phone calls

2. Fake IRS phone calls

3. Robocalls or unwanted phone calls.


4. Someone calling to say your computer needs work.

5. Identify theft.

6. Grandparent scam.

7. Elder financial abuse.

8. Grant scams.

9. Romance scams or confidence fraud.

10. Home improvement scams.

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