Foreign phone scams are a multimillion dollar business. And Vermont's attorney general is recognizing one man's effort to protect Vermonters from wire transfer fraud.
"They're smooth talking people. They promise you a lot of money," said Linda Mae Clow, whose sister was scammed.
The Hardwick woman says Jamaican scam artists stole her sister's life savings. They promised her a million dollars, and all she had to do was wire them a deposit. But the more money she sent, the more the scammers demanded.
"All of a sudden her $18,000 was gone. By that time she panicked and told her husband. There was anger, confusion and so much stress," explained Clow.
Clow and her family are not alone. Vermont's attorney general says tens of thousands of phone calls come into the U.S. every day from Jamaican area code 876.
"This is a huge criminal scam enterprise," stressed Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.
Last year the Attorney General's Consumer Assistance Program received 1,700 complaints of scams directed at Vermonters. Advocates say this is likely just the tip of the iceberg.
"The federal government has to do more," said Mike Smith, the president of FairPoint Communications.
Smith learned that his elderly customers were being targeted. When their money ran out the threats began. A recording of a woman from Maine getting scammed prompted Smith to take action. He partnered with police and advocacy groups to stop the criminal activity. He traveled to Jamaica and Washington, D.C., meeting with various law enforcement officials and testifying before Congress. With the help of the attorney general's office Smith got national attention for his cause.
"The Jamaicans have responded. They have passed legislation to make scamming illegal and starting some prosecutions on that. They have reformed their court systems so they will allow video affidavits from victims from the United States," Smith explained.
But for the victims here in Vermont the pain is permanent. The chances of getting their money back are slim. So the attorney general says education and prevention are critical. Bill Sorrell honored Smith Tuesday with the Pure Vermont award for his efforts to put these foreign criminals out of business.
It's a lesson Clow wished her sister learned before answering the phone for a Jamaican scammer.
"They pretend to be your friends. they're not. All they want is your money and you will not get anything except pain," said Clow.
Smith says the feds need to extradite and prosecute these foreign criminals, improve communication with local law enforcement and put more resources on the ground in Jamaica.
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