U.S. Sen. Susan Collins talks with Saco couple Stephen and Rita Shiman at a hearing in Washington D.C. on Wednesday afternoon. Credit: Submitted photo courtesy of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' office

No one wants to admit that they’ve fallen victim of a phone scam.

However, the Federal Trade Commission reports that thousands of people lose money every year to phone scams.

Saco couple Stephen and Rita Shiman have decided to tell the story about how they were scammed in an effort to educate others. The couple, at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, traveled to Washington, D.C., and testified before the Senate Aging Committee.

Rita Shiman said when she and her husband discovered they were scammed, they at first told no one except their children and York County Sheriff William King, because they were so embarrassed. She said when they did tell their friends about the incident, most of their friends said they either had a relative or knew someone who had been scammed.

“There’s a special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren,” said Rita Shiman. “The scammers know this well and they take full advantage of it.”

Rita Shiman said on May 28, 2015, the phone rang. She answered the phone and the caller said he was her grandson, Kabo, and sounded just like him, she said. He said he was in Atlanta, Georgia, and in the county jail and needed bail money. When she asked him what brought him to Georgia from his home in Maryland, he said he and some friends traveled to attend a funeral of a college classmate.

The caller, who Rita Shiman thought was her grandson, said he had a public defender who could get him out of jail if they posted bail money. He said he was calling his grandparents because he didn’t want his parents to find out what had happened.

A man identifying himself as public defender George Diaz called soon after, and with a sense of urgency asked the Shimans to send $1,250 cash to the Dominican Republic through Western Union.

“That statement alone should have raised a red flag, but we were so caught up in the moment that we were simply acting on autopilot,” said Rita Shiman.

Stephen Shiman said after they sent the money through Western Union and were home again and in a calmer state of mind, they had second thoughts about the situation. Stephen called the public defender’s office in Atlanta, and there was no public defender named George Diaz. He then called his son, and discovered that Kabo was home in Maryland and had not traveled to Georgia.

“It’s very easy to play Monday morning quarterback,” said Stephen Shiman. He said he and his wife have thought about this incident many times and can’t believe they were duped.

“We like to think we’re sophisticated people, but when it comes to these emotional responses to people that we love, our reason went out the window,” he said.

Collins thanked the Shimans for coming to testify and sharing their story.

“The more that seniors know about these scams, the less likely they are to fall victim,” she said.

According to the Government Accountability Office, financial fraud targeting older Americans is a growing epidemic that costs seniors an estimated $2.9 billion annually, Collins said.

Wednesday’s hearing coincided with the committee’s release of the 2018 fraud book, detailing the 10 most prevalent scams targeting seniors reported to the committee’s fraud hotline last year. In 2017, the hotline received more than 1,400 calls, Collins said. The top reported scam was the IRS impersonation scam, she said. Other scams on the top 10 list were lottery scams, grandparent scams, romance scams and identity theft scams.

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