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Cop Talk: Am I being scammed?

Q: I hear a lot about people being scammed out of money. How do I know if something is a scam?

A: In almost all scams, there are some clues that exist to let people know it's a scam. First, if something sounds too good to be true, it is. Second, most scams start with an unsolicited letter, phone call or e-mail. Oftentimes, these will say a person has won money or something to that effect. The only thing the person has to do is send them money first and the money will be sent. No legitimate lottery or other money award will ask for money first.

Another clue that something is a scam is when the person tells the "winner" to hurry and not to talk to anyone else about it.

According to the Minnesota Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement, $30 million is lost in scams in Minnesota alone. Knowing the earlier mentioned clues and the information about how much money is lost annually just in our state alone, here are some of the more common scams:

• Prize letter or e-mail. Contact is made saying the recipient has won money. All you have to do is send them some handling money via a wiring service and they will send you the winnings. Most often, these notices come and the recipient hasn't even entered into such a drawing.

• Secret shopper or other work at home scheme. The recipient receives a check in the mail telling them to cash the check and go shopping at designated stores. They ask you to keep a portion and send another portion back to the company.

• ID theft and phishing scams. In a previous article, information was given on identity theft. Phishing scams are typically via e-mail and the sender is trying to solicit bank account info or user names and passwords from the recipient.

• Interest rate reduction and debt consolidation. Sometimes these can be legitimate, but many times it isn't.

• On-line auction/classified ad scam. A person will buy an auction item and send too much money. They contact the recipient after that and make arrangements to get the "extra" money sent back via a wiring service.

• Cash grant/free money. There are very few times when there is such a thing as free money.

• Grandparent scam. This is where a person makes a phone call to someone, usually an elderly person, claiming to be their grandchild. They will have a story about being in trouble and needing money. They won't say their name and have a way of getting the grandchild's name from the person they call and convince them to send money via a wire service.

• Hit man scam. This is where the recipient is contacted and told they have a "hit" out on them. The caller or sender says that they will not do the "hit" if the recipient sends them money.

• Inheritance scam. Some unknown person has an estate with a lot money and the sender or caller is not able to get the money to a relative. Because you "happen" to have the same last name, if you send them some money by wire, you will get a large sum of money.

There are other scams out there, too, but they all have a similar theme. It is an unsolicited contact and they want you to send money to them first.

So, what should I do if I am contacted in a manner like this? First, do not send any money to an unknown person. Also, do not give out bank information to someone you do not know. Remember that your bank will not contact you to ask for a user name and/or password nor will they ask for your account number if they call you. Next, report this to law enforcement.

The Alexandria Police Department and the Echo Press have teamed together to create "Cop Talk, Ask the Alexandria Police Department." Each article will feature an answer to a question from a reader, a safety tip or some timely topic. If you have a question about crime prevention or safety, send an e-mail to