Springtime scams bloom
ST. PAUL -- The scam to bilk seniors by pretending to be their grandchildren in trouble spikes each springtime. This year scammers also will target those wanting to help disaster victims in Japan, as well as those impacted by upcoming flooding in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED).
AGED warns Minnesota grandparents to exercise caution if they receive phone calls from "grandchildren" requesting money for an urgent situation. Hallmarks of the fraud include a person posing as a grandchild, or a third-party representing them such as a police officer, attorney or border agent; an urgent need for immediate funds; and a demand for secrecy.
Typically in the scam, the caller will claim they need funds wired immediately to cover a vehicle crash, an arrest, border taxes or medical needs. Stressing their embarrassment, the caller urges the grandparent not to inform their parents or friends.
The timing of spring break travel adds legitimacy to the calls, with many fake calls claiming to be from popular student warm-weather destinations such as Mexico and Jamaica. However, calls purporting to be from Canada lend credibility to the scam throughout the year, given its proximity to Minnesota.
AGED Director Jim Arlt offers tips to grandparents and family members on how to avoid being taken by the increasingly popular grandchild-in-trouble scheme:
--Make sure of the caller's identity. Don't provide names or other information. Ask something that only the grandchild would know.
--Verify the location of the family member by calling another family member or friend.
--Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers depend on immediacy and will emotionally leverage love and embarrassment to induce their targets to wire funds quickly.
Disaster relief scams
Additionally, the recent earthquake/tsunami in Japan brings forth emails and phone calls from individuals claiming to be from reputable relief organizations. As a matter of routine, scams follow such incidents as relief groups ramp up their response efforts. Yet many well-known responders, including the Red Cross, do not proactively solicit funds.
"Donate by calling an organization's phone number or visiting their website," cautions Arlt. "If you are solicited by phone or on the Web, you should be wary -- do not give out your Social Security number, credit card or bank account information."
Minnesotans also are asked to be vigilant of those soliciting funds to help the state's flooding victims.