BANGOR – Sometimes when it sounds too good to be true it actually is, and you could be getting scammed.
Scammers pretending to be from Publishers Clearing House continue to trick people into sending them money, including one woman from Bangor.
“I said, ‘How much mom?’ And she said, ‘All of it,’” Nancy Howe, of Dedham, said Monday recalling an April conversation with her mother, Pauline Hopkins of Bangor.
“Since October she had been getting phone calls from people stating that she had won Publishers Clearing House and that in order for her to collect the money, she would have to send them money to cover the taxes,” Howe said. “They kept calling her … and getting her to send them money week after week after week. Sometimes three checks in a week. It ended up totaling $160,000 that she lost.”
Hopkins is one of many people who have fallen victim to scammers.
“They are very smooth-talking people,” she said Monday, sitting in her living room. “They lead you to believe what they’re telling you. They’re telling you that you’re going to receive a huge amount of money. All you have to do is pay taxes. All you have to do is pay a certain amount of money and you’ll get it all back. But it’s all a lie. You’ll get nothing back. Not a penny.”
She added, “They’re good at it. They seem to know how to pull the strings, how to talk to you, what to tell you, what to promise you.”
The scammers take aim at senior citizens who often live alone and are lonely, her daughter said.
“These sorts of crimes involving our elderly, these financial crimes, we’re seeing more and more and we think we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg because the shame of this, once it comes out, really prevents people from confiding in family or friends,” said District Attorney Marianne Lynch, who is a neighbor of Hopkins.
Lynch and Howe said educating older residents and financial institutions to be on the lookout for scammers is a key to prevention.
“It’s an important issue that we need to discuss with our banks so they become aware of this,” Lynch said. “Very similar to sometimes we’ll train hairdressers on how to look for signs of abuse. It’s really important that our banks … when they start to see this behavior that is out of the ordinary, that they have some means so they can safely confront somebody.”
And as folks age, people in their lives need to help them become aware of this issue.
“And just to be clear: This could happen to anybody,” Lynch said. “The people who are running these schemes are very skilled. They knew they were talking to a woman who just was lonely … and it made her particularly vulnerable to a crime like this.”
Howe added, “I just would never have thought my mom would fall for a scam like this because she was the mom that would clip coupons every week and so frugal with money.”
“She lives alone, she’s making her own meals, she’s making her own appointments, she’s paying all her bills,” Hopkins daughter said. “On the outside, everything looked great. Had no idea this was going on.”
Christopher Irving, vice president of consumer & legal affairs for Publishers Clearing House said Monday the company has an entire website designed to educate residents so they don’t get taken.
A video has been posted with three helpful hints that would prevent a majority of the scams associated with Publishers Clearing House.
“No. 1: We never notify winners with a phone call,” Danielle Lam, a member of the Publisher’s Clearing House prize patrol says in the educational video. “No. 2: We don’t send friend requests or private messages to winners on Facebook, and No. 3, most importantly, you never have to pay anything to claim your PCH prize.”
Those who feel they have been scammed, should contact their bank first and then their local police department.
Howe and Hopkins have done just that, and also have sent the information to Sen. Susan Collins’ office. The senior senator from Maine has an event scheduled for next month to educate Mainers about scams happening in the state.