SCAM PATROL: Local, National & International Cheats Prey on Area Residents
Groton residents have been victimized recently by telemarketing scam artists especially targeting the financially strapped, lonely elderly. However, every age and kind of person can be approached and victimized.
Recently, according to Groton Police Chief Donald Palma, one elderly resident repeatedly sent money orders to scammers, believing money would be coming back to her. It is estimated that she lost between $12,000 and $20,000 to this ruse.
Chief Palma warns residents to be especially wary of telephone solicitations on behalf of fire and police associations, another scam that has been perpetuated on local residents. Says the Chief, "Groton police and fire associations do not solicit funds in that way."
The latest tactic is for a cold caller to identify themselves as a Medicare official, asking if the call recipient wants to update their health insurance card. Having given out bank information, the victim finds they have been enrolled in a bogus discount "health plan" with their banking account being charged monthly for a 'shell' plan they cannot cancel.
Another common deception starts with a call announcing, "You've just won a foreign lottery." The voice on the line tells you that all you need to do is mail or wire a 'small' amount of money to cover the taxes and fees in order to claim your prize. The promised money never arrives but the requests for more and more money to cover phantom 'fees and taxes' never ends until your bank account is empty.
An additional scam that has made its way into the area involves a call from an international phone line with a person talking for three or four minutes. They then ask the victim to call back and when they do, they get billed several thousand dollars. This scam has cost many people significant amounts of money.
Chief Palma also reminds residents that this is the time of year when people knock on the door of homes, offering to seal driveways and/or repair the asphalt. They tell the unwitting homeowner that they have some extra sealing material from another job and for a fee they will seal their driveway but they will need the money before they start. They take the money and never come back.
A Notorious Case in Groton
One notorious case involved a 57-year old Groton resident, with impressive credentials as a Viet Nam veteran and ordained minister who in 2001 was contacted through email by someone who claimed to be Chief of Security in Nigeria and had to move some money out of the country quickly and needed some help. The amount was $55M American dollars, and the victim was told that if he could help the country of Nigeria, he would be richly rewarded. When he asked how they had gotten his name, he was told it was supplied by the South African Department of Home Affairs
The offer appeared to be an advance-fee fraud, a swindle where victims are asked to provide money, information, or services in exchange for a share of a promised fortune. Countless such e-mails, letters, and faxes are sent every year, with a broad variety of stories about how the money supposedly became available (unclaimed estate, corrupt executive and dying Samaritan being only a few of the most popular).
Unfortunately, this Nigerian proposal turned into a major swindle, and for his interest and agreement to help out this non-existent African government effort-as well as his own desire to make thousands and thousands of dollars personally--the Groton resident ended up as part of a Nigerian gang seeking to defraud U.S. banks. This Groton resident got deeper and deeper into the scam and for his participation because he was so driven by the money he would receive, he was ultimately charged, tried in federal court, found guilty of multiple counts, and was sentenced to two years in a federal prison and ordered to make restitution of more than $600k.
If you think that you may be a victim through contact by someone telling you have won such a lottery either through a phone call or an email, or someone trying to sell you sealing for your driveway, or some other suspicious activity, report the crime or your suspicions to the Groton Police Department immediately. If postal mail was used to make the contact, or if you have sent money to a scammer by mail, contact the US Postal Inspection Service. The email address is www.postalinspectors.uspis.gov. The US Postal Inspection Service is out to stop these criminals. You can help by learning to recognize fraudulent offers before they cause damage. According to the Service, only a small percentage of mail is used.