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Push to protect Vt. seniors from Jamaica phone scams - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Push to protect Vt. seniors from Jamaica phone scams

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. -

It's convincing.

"Ma'am, you won $1.5 million!"

A sophisticated Jamaican phone-scamming operation is targeting the elderly population in Northeast.

"There are 30,000 calls coming out of Jamaica a day, typically targeted at seniors," said Mike Smith of FairPoint Communications. "And what they'll do is promise you won something."

Items like homes, cars and money. The scammers ask for fees and taxes, and then the ante goes up; prizes get bigger and so does the amount they ask for. If the victim says they're out of money, the threats begin.

"It becomes belligerent, aggressive, saying we're going to turn you into the FBI and it can even threaten physical harm to some points," Smith said.

In a recording of an actual scam call, a Vermont senior says, "I was up till 4 a.m. crying. I don't have any more money. I'm cold and can't pay for heat."

It was this alarming recording that made Mike Smith of FairPoint take action, launching the website Bewareof876.com to raise awareness about the problem. 876 is the area code for Jamaica.

"They have ruined people's lives here," Smith said.

Smith recently went to Kingston, Jamaica, for a conference about the scams, speaking with government and local officials with an expectation the scamming will stop. Smith quickly learned Jamaica feels the negative publicity and Bewareof876 website is hurting their reputation.

"Of course there's reputations and of course I realize it's not the entire population, it's a small segment that are vicious criminals," Smith said.

FairPoint says that Jamaica needs to pass legislation to make scamming a crime there. Right now, victims who are scammed must show up at every court appearance in Jamaica, which is clearly hard to do when you live in the U.S.

Smith is going to Washington this month to press for legislation making it easier for the Justice Department to target offshore phone-scamming suspects.

Although they're not sure of the exact number of victims, hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to Jamaica from Vermonters. But FairPoint says that's just the tip of the iceberg. They expect at least 90 percent of victims have not come forward as of yet. If you fell victim to a phone scam you are urged to contact your local law enforcement. Also, just because this particular phone scam might be taken care of doesn't mean others won't pop up. Scammers sell phone lists of targets, like senior citizens.

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