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FairPoint Applauds Western Union Decision To Shut Down Services In Jamaican Hotbed Of Phone Scamming Operations

PORTLAND, Maine, Aug. 9, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- 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, 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, 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."

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