By PAT GROSSMITH
New Hampshire Union Leader
July 26. 2012 10:40PM
She was one of the speakers at a presentation by FairPoint Communications, the New Hampshire Attorney Genera’s Consumer Protection Bureau, AARP New Hampshire and law enforcement to make people aware of telephone scams originating from the Jamaican 876 area code almost exclusively targeting seniors.
Pat McHugh, FairPoint New Hampshire state president, told the seniors the telephone scams are “dangerous and pervasive.” FairPoint launched the “Beware: Scams from Area Code 876” in late March and created a website, http://www.bewareof876.com, providing tips on how now to avoid becoming victims. Each day, 30,000 calls are made from Jamaica to the United States in attempts to defraud American citizens, according to the phone company.
The news conference was prompted by the case of Nichols’ father, who was bombarded with telephone calls from scammers from February until mid-June. Nichols called it a form of brain-washing, where a woman name Diane with a heavy Jamaican accent came to befriend her father, so much so that he came to love her, but not in a romantic sense.
Nichols said the calls began in February when a Jamaican caller told him he won a car and all he needed to do was send some money to cover processing fees and taxes. Once he sent the money, however, the calls came pouring in of other supposed winnings. No prize was ever delivered, however.
In February, Nichols happened to see a news report about the scam and then she, too, started receiving phone calls — about 100 in 1½ months — from someone with a foreign accent looking for an Agnes Nichols. She happened to mention the scam to her father when she visited him at his Ossipee home and, she said, he became very quiet. He told her he had received a call from Publisher’s Clearinghouse saying he had won a car and he paid $500 to transport it up from Washington, D.C. He said the bank helped him get the money back.
In April, Nichols went to stay with him while he recovered from surgery. As soon as they got home from the hospital, she said, the phone started ringing off the hook. She heard her father yelling on the phone that he was not going to send the caller any more money, that he had just got out of the hospital and was in a lot of pain. He said he didn’t want to talk to whoever was on the phone and that he wanted to talk to Diane.
Minutes later, Diane called and Nichols got on the telephone to talk to her. Diane said her father had won the lottery and he just needed to transfer some money for the taxes. Nichols asked for the company’s website address so she could check it out but Diane said her their computer was down.
Nichols talked with her father and told him he needed to understand it was a scam. They called Fairpoint, were put in contact with its security team, changed the telephone number and notified police. Her father would not tell her how much money he had sent, but at that point, Nichols said, it was about $20,000. Later, her dad called Diane back to thank her for talking to his daughter.
She thought everything was OK until later in the year relatives gathered in Cape Cod for a family wedding and she overheard her father yelling at somebody on his cell phone. This time, it was a totally new group of people trying to get money out of him. Diane, however, was still in the picture. Diane, her father said, had left the other company and he confessed he had sent her money because she was going to lose her job. Nichols could not convince her father that it was a scam.
So, the family staged an intervention bringing in FairPoint Security, an investigator with the York County, Maine Sheriff’s Department , herself and her brother. The investigators showed him what happened to an elderly Maine woman who also was told she won millions in a lottery. She was taken for $150,000.
“Last night I went to bed. Three, 4 o’clock I was still awake and I was in bed crying. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t have any money coming in. I have the tax bill. The bills are coming in. I don’t have any oil. I am freezing here. I’m getting cold now. I can’t warm up my home,” she sobs in the actual call from the scammer that can be heard at http://www.bewareof876.com .
Nichols said her father is lucky. He still has his house and retirement, unlike the Maine woman who filed for bankruptcy.
Authorities said if you have not entered a contest and someone calls saying you have won a lottery or some other prize, odds are it is a scam.
Authorities advise people with caller ID to not answer any call from the 876 area code, unless they know the number is from someone they know. The attorney general also has a hotline, 888-468-4454, residents can call to report incidents.
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Pat Grossmith may be reached at email@example.com.