Portland, ME (August 9, 2012) - FairPoint Communications today praised the decision by Western Union to temporarily close money transfer stations in St. James parish, Jamaica, including the resort area of Montego Bay, in an effort to thwart international phone scamming operations. According to an Associated Press article, "Western Union is temporarily shutting down its services in a northern Jamaican parish that is the hotbed for a multimillion-dollar lottery scam that targets mostly elderly Americans." The company indicated it is conducting an internal systems review of its security measures at the locations in the Montego Bay region.
Conservative estimates put the yearly take from Jamaican scams at $300 million, up from about $30 million in 2009.
"As we have been working with local, state and federal officials to shed light on this issue for several months, we applaud Western Union for taking these proactive steps to combat this very serious problem," said Mike Smith, Vermont state president of FairPoint Communications. "Western Union is an industry leader in its efforts to stop fraud and has dedicated significant resources to proactively get information out to help warn people about scams. Our seniors are being abused and swindled of their hard-earned money and assets.� We must all come together to help prevent it. That's why FairPoint will continue our "Beware: Scams from Area Code 876" campaign to keep raising awareness in an effort to stop scams before they happen.
FairPoint launched the "Beware: Scams from Area Code 876" campaign in March, 2012 and partnered with law enforcement agencies in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to create a website, www.bewareof876.com to provide consumers with information on preventing phone scams. During the campaign, FairPoint has highlighted stories of people in northern New England who have been victimized by Jamaican lottery scams.
The stories include:
- An elderly widow in Cape Elizabeth, Maine who lost more than $140,000
- Victims in Vermont who have reported losing up to $18,000, and Attorney General William Sorrell reporting approximately 200 calls per year to his office reporting phone scams involving Jamaica
- A New Hampshire senior from the lakes region who was scammed of more than $85,000
FairPoint's "Beware: Scams from Area Code 876" campaign has gained national and international attention, prompting the Jamaican government to establish a task force to address the 30,000 daily calls from Jamaica into the United States attempting to defraud American citizens. As part of the campaign FairPoint also created a broadcast-ready public service announcement that is airing on stations across northern New England and directing listeners to the expanded website with resources to identify and prevent phone scams.
"Since launching the campaign in March, 4,700 unique users have visited www.bewareof876.com, with one-third of the traffic coming from Jamaica," continued Smith. "We are clearly getting the attention of those at the heart of this issue."
FairPoint further noted that its security office has received inquiries from across the country about this scam. According to Larry Caruso, FairPoint senior manager of security, the specific scam works as follows:
- Seniors receive a call from an 876 area code, which is often mistaken for a toll-free number.
- Victims are congratulated for winning the Jamaican lottery or a new car and then are directed to send a fee of up to $4,000 to process the lottery winnings.
- Victims are told that once the fee is received, money will be wired to their bank account and the car will be delivered to their home.
- Many times the caller will tell the victim that a representative of the lottery is in the area and as soon as the process fee is received, someone will deliver a check to their home. Scammers often use Google Earth to identify local landmarks and make the scam more believable.
- A key to the scammer's success is convincing victims to promise not to tell their family members and to make it a big surprise. If the scammers feel they have a potential victim, the calls will increase in frequency, resulting in hundreds of calls.
- The money is requested through a wire from Western Union, Green Dot Card or in a creative way such as putting $100 bills in each page of a magazine.
"In many cases, the scammer befriends the victim, going as far as professing their love, intent to marry or even praying with them," said Caruso. "Once a victim is scammed out of money for the first time, the scammers work to get more and more money, including access to bank accounts and credit card information."
FairPoint works closely with victims and their families to help end this cycle of abuse, Caruso said. "Our security software signals us when there is suspicious international activity on an account, allowing us to contact customers to ensure they aren't being victimized. Occasionally we come across a situation where we have to locate relatives and notify them of strange phone activity. We then work with the customer or their relative to add a call-intercept feature that will block inbound calls from specific area codes, block outbound international calls or even help change phone numbers."
The York County Sheriff's Department in Maine has played an important role investigating Maine scams, and working with a federal task force assigned to Jamaican phone scams.
"It is critical to inform our seniors about the dangers of phone scams and the 876 area code," said Major Bill King of the York County Sheriff's Office. "FairPoint has been a key partner in our effort to educate the public and more importantly, develop a case against these scammers. They have provided invaluable support and information to a federal task force coordinated under the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Consumer Litigation."
The Beware: Scams from Area Code 876 campaign has received support from additional law enforcement agencies and groups throughout northern New England, including the Attorneys General in Vermont and New Hampshire, the Rutland, Vermont Police Department and the New Hampshire Sheriff's Association.
"Vermonters receiving an unexpected call from area code 876 should be on high alert. These calls are almost certainly from scam artists," said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell. "We are pleased to join forces with FairPoint Communications, law enforcement officials, local authorities, seniors' organizations, and others to warn the public about so-called "Jamaican scams. Money sent to these thieves is gone for good.� Joint efforts, like this, are key to preventing devastating losses."
"Anyone receiving an unexpected call from area code 876 should be on high alert. There is a high likelihood that these calls are from scam artists," said James Boffetti, New Hampshire senior assistant attorney general. "Unfortunately these scammers are very persistent and in some cases verbally abusive, threatening to harm victims if they do not send money. It is critical to inform our seniors about the dangers of phone scams from the 876 area code."
"The New Hampshire Sheriff's Association, representing all 10 sheriffs in the state of New Hampshire, is unanimously in support of FairPoint's efforts to get the word out about the Jamaican Lottery Scam," said Belknap County Sheriff Craig H. Wiggin. "This scam and others like it, tend to focus on the elderly and the most vulnerable among us. It is important to educate the public about these crimes, which are often international in scope. We urge those with elderly friends and family members to make sure they are aware of the many telephone and internet scams that we in law enforcement are seeing regularly and contact their local authorities with questions or concerns."
The AARP has also lent support to the "Beware: Scams from 876 Area Code" in Maine, Vermont and New Hamsphire.
"We are very concerned about the growing number of scams targeting older residents in New Hampshire and across America," said Harold Moldoff, AARP New Hampshire's lead fraud fighter. "A growing number of older Americans become victims of financial fraud each year. Many of these victims, up to 75 percent, never report their victimization due to embarrassment and fear their children will negatively intervene."
FairPoint Communications, Inc. (NasdaqCM: FRP) is a leading communications provider of Broadband Internet access, local and long-distance phone, television and other Broadband services to customers in communities across 18 states. Through its fast, reliable network, FairPoint delivers affordable data and voice networking communications solutions to residential, business and wholesale customers. FairPoint delivers VantagePointSM services through its resilient IP-based network in northern New England. This state-of-the-art network provides Ethernet connections that support video conferencing, e-learning and other broadband based applications. Additional information about FairPoint products and services is available at www.FairPoint.com. You can also connect with FairPoint on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/myfairpoint) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/myfairpoint).