AUGUSTA — The Maine Attorney General’s Division of Consumer Protection hears sad stories about people being swindled.

To illustrate how it can happen, they shared a few. In one instance a couple was scammed over the phone, two others online.


Martha Currier, who heads the AG’s Division of Consumer Protection, said a recent case involved a woman in the Gardiner area, a person she described as intelligent, a grandmother in her 60s. She met someone on an online dating service, Christian Mingle.

Last year the woman was conned out of $35,000 over a three-month period.

“It doesn’t start off, ‘Hi, I’m Joe, send me some money,'” Currier said.


The relationship starts off slow, sharing friendship, similar interests, then love. “You become vulnerable, talking about what you like, what you don’t like, your grandkids.”

They start with a good reason for needing money: They have a piece of equipment they need to repair to complete a job, but they can’t make the repair because they haven’t gotten paid and need the equipment, so could you send $2,000?

“Then it’s a medical bill. Or, ‘I need help with food’,” Currier said. “All along they’re writing love letters, songs, promising everything under the sun.”

Another woman in the Bangor area sent tens of thousands of dollars after selling  her house to an online love interest. She was poised to send another $50,000 when Currier heard about it.

“I had the gal in Gardiner talk to her,” Currier said. The Bangor woman still believed she and her scammer were going to live happily ever after. “He had a story for everything,” Currier said. “They’re good at what they do.”

Currier said it boils down to this: “If you have never shaken their hand, don’t send them money. There’s no reason to trust them.”



Even though it’s been around a while, the grandparent scam happened to someone that Mills served with in the Maine Legislature, a man she described as educated and accomplished.

Scams can happen to anyone, she said.

In 2016 the man told Mills he and his wife received a call from a wireless caller who said he was Marine Corps Sgt. Benson, calling for their grandson who was in the Marines.

The caller said their grandson had been arrested in the Dominican Republic after police found marijuana in his car. He put the “grandson” on the phone, who said he had a sore throat, was depressed, and asked them not to tell anyone he was arrested.

The sergeant said they had to send $1,100 for court fees. The grandfather, who served in the Peace Corps, had scary ideas about what happens to Americans in developing countries. Worried, he did as instructed, withdrew the money from his bank, then went to a CVS and sent a Moneygram.


A few hours later another call came from “Sgt. Benson,” who said his grandson went to court, was fined and now needed $950. The grandparents wired the money.

Later that day came a third call from “Sgt. Benson” saying he would put their grandson on a plane back to his base in Japan, but he wouldn’t be allowed into the country until they sent $1,200 for customs fees. The couple went back to CVS to wire $1,200.

This time, the CVS clerk and manager refused to wire the money, telling the couple it was a scam. The couple left intending to find another place to wire money, but decided to call their son, who called his son in the Marines.

The real grandson called his grandparents from Japan saying he was fine and was sorry that they were scammed.

“I love my grandson and am very proud of him,” the man told Mills. The fake sergeant and grandson were convincing. His emotions were focused on his grandson’s safety.

The couple didn’t get their money back, but shared their story to prevent others from being swindled.


Mills said one red flag is when someone asks for money and says not to tell anyone. Always verify with someone else that the call is real, she said.

Another red flag is asking that money be wired. “That’s how they get your cash fast,” Mills said. “Once they pick it up, it’s untraceable.”

“While many meet people online, too often people looking for love are swindled out of their savings,” said Martha Currier, who heads the AG’s Division of Consumer Protection. Never give money to anyone you’ve never met in person, she said. “If you’ve never shaken their hand, you have no reason to trust them.” (Michael Leonard photo)

To avoid being scammed, Attorney General Janet Mills recommends that people verify what they’re told by callers. (Portland Press Herald file photo)

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