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Houlton Police Department
97 Military Street
Houlton, ME 04730

Scams - Phone, Mail, Internet, Pyramid

Scam Alert: Internet Phishing

Phishing is a term that means getting your personal information by deception and possibly using the information to steal your identity. A common phishing scheme comes through your email and disguises itself as a bank that needs to update your personal information. Some phishing schemes will offer to put money into your bank account for answering a survey. No matter how legitimate the message looks, never send personal information over the internet unless you initiate the contact.

Nigerian scheme

You receive a letter, email or fax pertaining to money laundering. They may send your checks or money orders asking you to deposit them and then wire a percentage back to the scammer. The checks and money orders are counterfeit. You will end up paying back thousands to the bank. This scam mainly originates out of Nigeria or other parts of West Africa. The scammers will have a seemingly good reason for asking your help. Do not believe them.

Advance Fee Loan

The scammers claim they can obtain a loan for you but you have to pay in advance. They may give an address in the U.S. but the address is bogus. They often want you to wire the advance fee to Canada. They tell you that once they receive the fee, they will deposit the loan proceeds into your bank account. You keep looking for the promised loan to show up in your bank account. The scammers then may tell you they need more money to insure the loan. You may end up sending more money. Again, the loan proceeds do not show up in your account. They promise you a refund within a couple of weeks once you tell them you want to cancel. Eventually, they will not accept any calls and the phone number may no longer be in use. You have been taken for hundreds of dollars. Remember, once you get on a scam list, they will call you again and again.

Internet Auctions

You win the bid for merchandise and it never arrives. You endlessly try contacting the scammer via email and phone and you are ignored. Sometimes the scammer sends the product but one of lesser value. There are also second chance offers that are off site. These are also bogus. Once they receive your money your never hear from them again.

Government Grants

Someone calls you on the phone indicating that they are from the government and that the government wants to give you a government grant. They just need your bank account numbers to deposit the check. Don’t be fooled. The government doesn’t call people to give money away.


Some job offers for supposedly foreign employment opportunities ask for an advance fee to cover visa and travel costs. They may ask for your social security number, credit card numbers and bank account numbers. Legitimate companies will absorb the costs of hiring you and would never ask for your credit card numbers or bank account numbers. There is an employment scam that asks you to be an agent for the bogus company. They ask you to cash checks and money orders for clients through your own bank account and you will be paid a percentage for doing so. The checks and money orders are bogus and you may end up paying thousands of dollars back to your bank.

On-Line Dating

You meet someone on the internet and hit it off. Your romance begins and soon you are exchanging photos and making plans to meet. The person you meet says that they are from the U.S. but are currently working in Nigeria or some other place in Africa. They want to fly to meet you but they need you to send the money for the airfare. After you send the money, they may ask for more money to cover visa costs or other expenses. This on-line scammer will get you to send thousands of dollars and convince you that he or she is in love and coming to visit. After awhile you realize that you have been scammed.


You receive a letter in the mail saying you have won thousands of dollars in a lottery or sweepstakes. They send you a check to cover taxes or some other bogus fee. You deposit the check in your bank account and then wire the required fee, probably to Canada. Your bank contacts you days later to alert you that the check is fraudulent and you now have to pay the bank back.

Scam Alert: Fake Check Scams (This information provided by the Maine Attorney General Office)

There is an old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." When you are looking to protect yourself from being ripped off, or becoming a victim of identity theft, heeding these words is the best protection you have.

But what if the offer is not too good to be true? What if it is a reasonable transaction, conducted in the course of day to day business? You may be renting an apartment, selling an item on eBay or in Uncle Henry’s and the person perpetrating the fraud seems to check out OK.

This is the nature of a popular type of con.

Fake check scams often originate through email. A stranger wants to purchase a good or a service, and when they send their check they will ask you to wire some money back to them.

The stories they use vary from scam to scam. If you are renting an apartment, they may ask you to wire money to cover the cost of getting their furniture out of storage or make up a family tragedy that has changed their circumstances. If they are buying an item from eBay, they could "accidently" send you a check for too much money, then ask you to wire back the difference.

Fraudsters do not respond solely to internet or newspaper ads. We recently saw nearly a dozen Maine farmers contacted about the purchase of hay, sent a check from out of state, and then asked to wire the overpayment back to the purported buyer.

Whatever the set-up, the bottom line is if someone you don't know pays you with check but wants you to wire money back, it's a scam.

The Maine Office of the Attorney General has witnessed people from around the world using the internet, the mail box and the telephone to rip off Maine consumers. At first they were asking you to donate to a charity that did not exist, then they were offering can’t miss business deals. When that stopped working, they started answering classified ads for apartments and cars. They would send you a check and then come up with an excuse to have some money wired to them. Here in Maine, and across the United States, people were scammed out of millions of dollars.

A survey conducted in seven states estimates that over 29 percent of Western Union transfers in excess of $300 from the U.S. to Canada were fraud induced, representing 58 percent of the total dollars transferred.

In response to these finding, Maine and 46 other states negotiated an agreement with Western Union that has helped to educate consumers who transfer money by wire.

I am proud to be here today to help raise awareness of check fraud. It is often difficult to catch the perpetrators who operate overseas, who operate in developing nations where governments not only turn a blind eye, but the culture encourages the behavior.

This Consumer Awareness Campaign is designed to educate people so Americans can steer clear of fraudulent transactions. While there is no way to ensure that you will never fall victim to one of these schemes, there are things you can do to protect yourself:

Be skeptical. There is no legitimate reason for you to wire money back to someone who has paid with a check.

Just because it looks like the money is available, does not mean the check has cleared. Check with your bank to make sure the check has cleared.

If a stranger would like to pay you for something, demand a cashier’s check from a local bank or a bank with a branch near you.

Do not deposit checks unless they are for the exact amount of the payment. If a check is for more than it should be, return it and ask for a check for the exact amount.

Educate loved ones about the nature of scams

Resist any pressure to "act now." If the buyer’s offer is good now, it should be good after the check clears.

Many people often think this type of thing will never happen to them. That people who fall victim to scams are looking to get rich quick or so gullible there is no helping them. These stereo types are not at all accurate.

About a month ago I was forwarded an email chain from a constituent who had been looking to rent some rooms as a way to make a little extra money.

He advertised the rooms on Craig’s List, and received a response from a very interested person. Over the next few weeks the constituent exchanged 19 emails with the fraudster. Answering questions about how the room was furnished, move in dates, trash collection, transportation, and other questions one would ask before renting an apartment.

In the final emails the fraudster asks the landlord to wire part of the security deposit to a moving company. Luckily the constituent became wary, ceased contact and reported the incident to the authorities.

What struck me about this particular scam was the high number of contacts, the legitimate nature of the questions the fraudster was asking, and the details of his story. There was no offer of millions, just someone answering an ad. The consumer was not trying to get rich, he was just trying to supplement his cash flow.

I would like to end by offering a piece of advice. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. While this is sound advice, I also urge you to be even more vigilant. Thieves are no longer just playing on financial fantasies; they are concealing their scams in legitimate commerce and complex back stories.

Scam Alert: Iraq Money Transfer

A new scam has been reported to the Office of the Attorney General. It involves someone looking to move money from Iraq to a US bank. The caller offers you a portion of the money if they can transfer the funds to your bank account. The caller then asks for your checking account number or that you send some money to start the transfer. DON’T SEND MONEY, THIS IS A SCAM! It is just the latest variation of the so-called Nigerian Scam.

Never give out your personal identifying information over the phone if you do not initiate the contact. If you are unsure, contact our office before you give out the information, (800) 436-2131. If an offer is good now, it will be good later, do not let the scam artist pressure you. Remember, if you tell someone your bank account number, it’s possible for that person to then drain your account.

Scam Alert: Automated telephone scams

Will receive a call from an automated telephone system claiming to be from a financial institute alleging your debit/credit card is about to expire or needs to be activated/re-activated. The phone message prompts you to input you credit/debit card number into the phone thus compromising your account.

Scam Alert: Puppy Scam

Classified listing in the Pioneer Times:
Ad in the September 24, 2008 Pioneer Times edition lists Teacup Yorkie puppies for adoption. Person leaves a hotmail.com address for inquiries. Local resident emails the owner of the Teacup Yorkies who resides in Nigeria. He emails a very cute picture of one of the Yorkies and requests $350 for help in shipping the puppies to the US. Seller tells you that the puppies will be shipped with all of their toys. Seller informs buyer that the puppies should arrive in 2-3 days. First of all whenever you see something with the word Nigeria in it, red flags should automatically go up. Seller will inform you that they never received the money or additional cash is needed for veterinary bills, shots etc. Buyer never receives the dog and is out of the cash.

Scam Alert: Credit Card Scam

This one is pretty slick since they provide YOU with all the information, except the one piece they want. Note, the callers do not ask for your card number; they already have it.

This information is worth reading. By understanding how the VISA & MasterCard Telephone Credit Card Scam works, you'll be better prepared to protect yourself.

For more details, please check this link: http://www.houltonpolice.com/ccscam01.html

Scam Alert: Reverse Mortgage Scam

Reverse mortgage scams are engineered by unscrupulous professionals in a multitude of real estate, financial services, and related entities to steal the equity from the property of unsuspecting senior citizens aged 62 or older or to use these seniors to unwittingly aid the fraudsters in stealing equity from a flipped property.

In many of the reported scams, victim seniors are offered free homes, investment opportunities, and foreclosure or refinance assistance; they are also used as straw buyers in property flipping scams. Seniors are frequently targeted for this fraud through local churches, investment seminars, and television, radio, billboard, and mailer advertisements.

For more details, please check this link: http://www.houltonpolice.com/mortgagescams.html

Scam Alert: Smishing Attacks
The Gardner (MA) PD reports ongoing problems in their area with ‘SMISHING ATTACKS’. Victims receive text messages on their cell phones that appear to be from regional banking institutions stating ‘CARD SERVICES CU….ALERT: YOUR CARD HAS BEEN DEACTIVATED, please contact us at 978-596-0798 to REACTIVATE your card. Calling this number (believed to be out of Lowell, Mass) often comes up with a busy signal; however if the victim does get through a recording asks for the PIN numbers to the cards. If this info is given then the card is compromised. It is unknown at this time if anyone in Maine has been contacted; however similar scams have been taking place across the country and are being dubbed ‘SMISHING ATTACKS’.

Lottery Scam

Kennebec SO is investigating a SCAM where an elderly couple from Randolph was duped out of $240,000! The local Bank of America branch contacted the SO after noticing several extremely large withdrawals from their bank account. The couple told detectives they had been contacted by mail and phone advising them that they had won a $5.5 million dollar contest and needed to pay processing fees. Believing they had won the prize, the couple withdrew retirement funds, emptied their savings and maxed out NINE CREDIT CARDS to make 22 ‘processing fee payments’. The funds were mailed to addresses in Florida , New York , Georgia and Iowa …….then transferred to Jamaica .

Counterfeit money

Counterfeit money on bleached genuine $5 paper.
Click here for details

To get information about scams in our area out to the public faster, we have been posting all the new updates about scams on our facebook page.  To view this information, visit us on Facebook at the following address: