Island residents fall prey to scammers 



BAR HARBOR — Last year more than 105,000 Americans fell victim to scams at a loss of more than $1 billion. The average individual loss, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was just under $10,000. There were approximately 1,900 people in 2020 who lost more than $100,000.  

And those are just the crimes that are reported. In the United States, it is estimated that 82 percent of scam-related crimes go unreported, mostly because the victims are embarrassed to come forward.   

Mount Desert Island is not immune.  

This week in Southwest Harbor, a local couple was scammed out of more than $10,000. It didn’t stop there. Unbeknownst to the victims, they had given the scammers access into their computer, which allowed their identities and other information to be compromised also. The scammer in this instance convinced the couple to withdraw money from their bank and send it to an out-of-state address. Due to the severity of this case, the FBI is investigating, and steps have been taken to secure their account and identities from future abuse.  

According to Southwest Harbor Police Chief John Hall, “this is not the first case in town in the last month or so.” He said he is seeing a rise in fraud-based crimes and wants the community to be aware so they can take measures to protect themselves. 

In many instances, the scammers have done their homework, said Hall. They know just enough personal information about their would-be victim to tell a convincing story that plays on emotions and prompts action. Other times, scammers represent themselves as being from a government agency – one that is either respected or feared – and work to keep their target on the phone throughout the transaction so they cannot independently verify the fraud while it is in progress.  

A steady stream of fraud also comes across the desk of the Bar Harbor Police Department, according to officer Christopher Dickens, who recently worked a case where scammers convinced a person to send $10,000 cash in an empty box to an out-of-state residential address. The person thought they were sending the money to bail their adult child out of jail in another state, but that wasn’t the case. 

Dickens said he regularly sees three different types of fraud. There is the “grandmother” scam where a person is told that a loved one is in trouble and needs immediate financial help to get out of it.  

Then there is a rental scam where people respond to ads on third-party sites while looking for year-round rental or vacation rentals. In this instance, people might be told to fill out applications that contain sensitive and personal information, followed by a request to forward money. Last year Dickens was called out to a property in town that someone thought they had rented for a vacation only to find out that the homeowner was there and had not listed the property.  

The third scam involves gift cards where victims are told to purchase gift cards and then relay the information on the back of the card, which gives immediate access of the funds to the scammer.  

In the internet age, the amount of personal information available to the public continues to increase, said Dickens, allowing scammers to mine data and social media accounts to get a fairly good picture of an intended target. Family photos, names of relatives and even email addresses and phone numbers are relatively easy to locate online. Armed with that data, scammers can craft a convincing story. 

While these types of crimes affect all age groups, those over the age of 60 tend to be victimized at higher rates than other age groups. In 2020, there were a reported 23,186 victims under age 20 and 105,301 victims aged 60 and above. Losses associated with scams targeting that latter age group have tripled from roughly $320,000 in 2017 to nearly $975,000 in 2020. 

“If something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” said Dickens, adding that the local police departments are willing to vet information for residents if they have questions.  

Dickens said that officers are generally able to tell if something is a scam and he urges residents to avoid “faceless transactions,” whereby someone is unwilling to meet in person. “If someone is asking you for a substantial amount of money, don’t commit to it unless you can meet a person face to face,” he said.  

Tips to protect information 

The FBI offers the following tips: 

Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you. 

Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone. 

Legitimate customer, security or tech support companies will not initiate unsolicited contact with individuals nor will they demand immediate payment or require payment via prepaid cards, wire transfers or mailed cash.  

Install ad-blocking software that eliminates or reduces pop-ups and malvertising. Ensure all computer anti-virus, security and malware protections are up to date.  

Be cautious of customer support numbers obtained via open-source searching. Phone numbers listed in a “sponsored” results section are likely boosted as a result of search engine advertising. 

Resist the pressure to act quickly. Criminals will urge the victim to act fast to protect their device. Legitimate companies will allow time for a person to process and research any questions. 

Never give unknown, unverified persons remote access to devices or accounts. 

Government or law enforcement officials will not demand payment by prepaid cards, wire transfers or overnight mailed cash, nor contact a subject by phone to notify they are under investigation. 

Legitimate government or law enforcement actions will likely occur in person or by official letters. 

 

Faith DeAmbrose

Faith DeAmbrose

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Faith DeAmbrose

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