Police warn to watch for scams

by Joni Astrup

Associate Editor

Authorities are warning people to be on the alert for scams, after an 89-year-old Elk River woman lost $10,700 when a caller claiming to be her granddaughter said she was jailed in Mexico.

“We’re seeing a lot of people getting bilked,” Elk River Police Capt. Bob Kluntz said.

Just last month, an 80-year-old Elk River man was swindled out of several thousand dollars by a pair of callers, including one claiming to be his granddaughter. Another resident was cheated out of more than $30,000 in a case where she was told she was a prize winner.

Kluntz said the Elk River Police Department wants people to know, if they have any suspicions about a call or request, they should call the Police Department at 763-635-1200. Talk to someone before wiring any money, he added.

One of the red flags is being asked to keep the request for money a secret, he said. Another tip is if asked to wire money to help a family member, contact that loved one first to make sure it’s a legitimate call, Kluntz said.

“They work on your sympathies and your love for your grandchildren,” he said of the swindlers.

The Police Department also recommends that the children of elderly parents help educate their parents about these “grandparent scams.”

Sherburne County Attorney Kathy Heaney recommends a free handbook, “Fighting Fraud for Seniors,” that is available from the Minnesota attorney general at www.ag.state.mn.us.

The latest incident that targeted the Elk River woman involved several calls, according to the police report.

The first came on Feb. 17, when a female claiming to be the woman’s granddaughter said she was in jail in Mexico. The “granddaughter” claimed she and her cousin were pulled over for a broken taillight and Mexican police located marijuana in the vehicle.

An hour later, a man called identifying himself as “Paul White” from the Mexican embassy. He explained that the “granddaughter” needed $1,900 to bail out of jail and that the information should be kept secret until she was out. The woman in Elk River transferred the money to Mexico.

On Feb. 19 “White” called again and said there was a $5,800 fine that needed to be paid. The woman transferred the money to Haiti.

“White” called again a few days later and said she had to pay $1,900 in lawyer fees to an attorney in California. The woman transferred the money.

On March 5 the woman got a phone call from “Aaron Patterson.” He said he was sending a check for $8,000 to her home in an armored car, but she needed to send $1,100 for insurance. The woman sent the money to an armored car company in Wyoming.

Several days later “Patterson” called again, claiming the armored car company delivered the check to the wrong address and the woman needed to repay $1,000. The woman told him she was done transferring money.

She ended up calling her granddaughter in Duluth, which is when she learned it was all a scam.

Tips to avoid scams

Here are some tips to help people protect themselves from scams, courtesy of Sherburne County Attorney Kathy Heaney.

•Talk with your family members and establish a code word. If someone then calls about your family member, if they do not provide the code word and they ask for money, you know it’s a scam.

•If you get an offer for a prize that requires you to front any money, then it’s a scam.

•If you are requested to “verify” personal information over the phone or Internet that you have already provided, do not do it.

•If you are being pressured to sign a contract by a salesman, tell them you need to have it in writing and you need to speak with your attorney/CPA/banker (insert any person) prior to signing the agreement. This will give you time to collect your thoughts away from the high pressure sales person.