The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 12, 2013

Police tell seniors to be On Scam Alert

In a year police received 300-plus fraud complaints

By Robb Murray rmurray@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — One of the sad realities of getting older is the fact that, the older you get, the more likely it is that some ne’er-do-well will see you as easy prey.

That’s why Mankato Area Lifelong Learners — the group that sponsors speakers, informational sessions and field trips for seniors — put a session on this season’s lecture list called “Senior Scams.”

Sandi Schnorenberg and Jeff Knutson of the Mankato Department of Public Safety walked the group through the latest scams that have been investigated in the Mankato area.

And the scams don’t just target seniors.

“Has anyone ever been a victim of identity theft?” Knutson asked the group. A few raised their hands. “Well I have. There isn’t a 100 percent, foolproof guarantee that this stuff won’t happen to you.”

How prevalent are scams and financial crimes?

In the past 12 months, the police said, they’ve investigated more than 300 financial fraud investigations. Stolen credit or debit cards and counterfeit transactions account for most of it.

The officers shared a host of stories to illustrate the pervasiveness of scams and financial fraud.

Last winter a man in New Jersey purchased a car on the Mankato Craigslist site. After wiring money to the Mankato-area seller, the buyer never heard from the guy again and never got his car.

In August 2005 police received many complaints about phones calls supposedly form a local bank asking people to verify their account numbers.

In summer 2001, a woman received a call from her bank saying they needed help investigating an employee they suspected of theft. They wanted the woman to withdraw $5,000 from her account and hand deliver it to the supposed bank representative. That representative was then supposedly going to use the cash to try and catch the rogue teller in the act of stealing. She lost that money.

Last summer, an elderly woman got a phone call from someone saying they were the police and her grandson had been arrested. The grandson need bail money, they said, and they asked if she could bail him out. When she complied, they called her back to say that if she wanted her grandson to get the “good judge,” she’d need to send more money.

Schnorenberg said she sees one bad habit routinely when she goes shopping. Many women will leave their purse in the shopping cart as they stroll down the aisles. This gives would-be thieves more than enough time to exploit an unattended bag.

People also leave items in plain view in hotel rooms and unlocked cars. Bad ideas, police say.

“We’re not living in Mayberry,” Schnorenberg said. “They will take your stuff and within the first hour they’ll be using it.”

Also, beware of door-to-door salesmen. Many present themselves as construction workers who just happen to have extra material from a nearby job and are hoping to use the remaining blacktop or roofing material on another local job. Others might be selling magazines or collecting money for charity.

Their advice: Never pay up front for work, and don’t give money to anyone unless you’re absolutely sure it’s going where you think it’s going.

Mankato Area Lifelong Learners is a membership organization. Visit mnsu.edu/mall to learn more about upcoming courses and membership fees.