Opinion

The dreamers, the schemers and the scammers

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As long was we can dream of a better day or fear our nightmares, there will be con artists and scammers looking to steal our money.

My father was a dreamer. He’d buy the old Cadillac or the limping RV with the hopes that he could coerce a few more miles out of the relics. He’d buy property on the hopes of a boom. He’d visit the timeshares in search of a deal.

He believed in the American dream, and he believed he’d get ahead if he just tried.

And that led him to buy a ranch in New Mexico. He believed the pitch, that it would be the perfect place to retire at the end of a long, hard life of labor. Plus it was a great deal!

When my mom passed away in 2015, I became the owner of that ranch. Well, ranch isn’t exactly accurate. It’s more of a ranchette.

It’s in Torrance County, New Mexico, and is close to the Salinas National Monument. It’s about an hour to Albuquerque and not far from Interstate 40 and the Old Route 66.

On paper, it looks like a dream retirement spot.

If you’re not sure what a ranchette is, you could also describe it as a piece of scrub brush with no access to water along a semi-graded dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

My dad was taken (and it wasn’t the first or last time). Nonetheless, he never gave up the dream and he kept the property for the rest of his life. Today, the property taxes on it are about $8 a year. And you could be my neighbor and fellow rancher for the bargain-basement price of about $1,000.

Who knows, maybe one day it will really take off.

If dad were alive today with our plague of digital desperadoes, he’d probably get taken again. Nigerian princes, phishing scams and robo villains are all on the prowl.

I thought about that last week at an event with Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey. A man walked in clearly upset and looking a bit lost.

He was carrying a manila envelope, and he was desperate for help, though there was no way he could have known that he had stumbled upon the attorney general.

The man was scared and it showed.

I saw him and had a brief conversation and quickly discovered that he was the victim of a common telephone scam. He had received a call claiming to be from the IRS, threatening him with arrest if he failed to send money.

Luckily, the man – an asylum-seeker living in Portland – hadn’t sent any money. He had his tax reforms, and he was trying to figure out the right thing to do.

Frey immediately got involved. He sat with the man at a table and listened to his story.

He called up a webpage from his office that has information about the latest scams facing Maine consumers and walked the man through the facts. He showed him the IRS homepage, which also had information about scams targeting taxpayers.

For more than 30 minutes, Frey worked to comfort the man and answer his questions.

At the end of the conversation, Frey traded contact information with the man. The next day someone from the consumer protection office contacted him, to make sure that he was OK.

The attorney general missed a lot of the event. He’d taken most of the time to help someone who needed it.

My dad fell victim to his dreams. The man with his taxes was scared he’d go to prison or back to a country where he’d be in danger.

The lessons: We all have to be vigilant to the scams and scammers who try to take advantage of our hopes and our fears. We all need to look out for one another. And we can take comfort in the fact that we have an AG who’s personally looking out for us – sometimes one person at a time.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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