Scamming is a big business that preys on emotion, local officials warn

Scamming is a big business that preys on emotion, local official warned Wednesday.

Detective Tiffany Blaschko from the Mankato Department of Public Safety, Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott, and Kristie Pittmann, an Adult Protection Assessment Specialist with Blue Earth County, joined forces to speak to the public about the rising scams that are surfacing in the area.

Pittmann said seniors are often targeted because they have more time on their hands and more wealth.  “There’s a lot of wealth in the senior population,” she said.  “And the scammers know that, so they’re really narrowing in on your vulnerabilities.”  She said scams most frequently happen through mail, phone, and computer.

McDermott says that while it’s still important to keep social security numbers secret, scammers now are mostly accessing personal information by getting a date of birth.  He warned that people should exercise caution about where and how they disclose their birth date, because it makes it easier for perpetrators to set their scams in motion.

Pittmann noted that scammers are smart and do their homework.  They rely on a quick reaction based on emotion to scam their victims.  She highlighted the “Grandparent Scam,” which started about a year ago and has been common in the area.  The scammer will call an elderly victim pretending to be a grandchild who is in dire need of immediate funds, sometimes for bail money.  “They want [the victim] to react quickly so they don’t have time to think about it,” she said.

Pittmann said scammers might be accessing personal information through social media.  “Maybe your getting tagged on family photos that list your grandkids and all their names.”

Det Blaschko said the scammers are “extremely good at what they do.”  She talked about scam calls she’s responded to during her time in law enforcement, including one situation where a Walgreen’s employee intervened when a couple tried to buy gift cards to apparently get their grandchild out of jail.  The employee encouraged the couple to instead go to law enforcement. “This woman was in tears,” said Blaschko of the grandmother’s desperation to help her supposed grandchild.

Blaschko recommends that people slow down, think, and assess the situation before sending gift cards or wiring money.  After it’s sent, she says, it’s too late.  The money is often immediately gone.  Blaschko says it’s rare that funds can be recovered because the scammers are so quick at what they do.

The panel says scammers will generally contact victims out of the blue, or ask them to wire money, sometimes under the guise that they’ll receive a prize.  The scammers will often request personal or financial information and ask the victim to keep the call a secret.

To avoid scams, experts recommend blocking unwanted calls and text messages and resisting pressure to act immediately.  When in doubt, potential victims should contact local law enforcement, something Blaschko encourages. “Call 911,” she said.  “We want you to call us before all this happens, so we can help you instead of trying to help you on the other end, after you’ve been scammed.”

“We’re all emotional creatures,” McDermott said.  “If they can go after your emotions in some way shape or form, whether that’s scare tactics or to pull on your heartstrings, that’s what they’re trying to do.”

Telemarketing fraud is a $40 billion a year business, according to information shared during the presentation.

Victims can report scams by phone at (877) 382-4357, or online.

More help is available through the Senior Linkage Line at (800) 333-2433 or the Minnesota Elder Justice Center at (651) 440-9300.


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