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Woman who lost $90K part of Twin Cities scamming spree

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. -- It started with a Maplewood woman responding to an online advertisement for computer repairs in early July. For a couple hundred bucks, the company promised to fix her computer and better protect it from cyberattacks. The woma...

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. -- It started with a Maplewood woman responding to an online advertisement for computer repairs in early July.

For a couple hundred bucks, the company promised to fix her computer and better protect it from cyberattacks.

The woman bit and coughed up $249 for the service. Less than two weeks later, she’d been scammed out of more than $90,000, according to Maplewood police.

The woman, whose name was not disclosed, is one of five residents in the St. Paul suburb who have fallen victim to financial exploitation totaling nearly $200,000 in just over six weeks this summer.

While scams are far from a rarity in Maplewood, the recent cluster is alarming, said Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell.

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“When we have five members of our relatively small community experiencing $180,000 in loss in that short of a time period … that’s very telling,” Schnell said. “The significance of the exploitation these scammers are able to achieve is striking. … In some cases, people are losing nearly their life savings.”

The scammers’ strategies vary.

In the case of the woman who thought she was paying to safeguard her computer, the scammers preyed on her fear of online security, Schnell said. After telling her the new anti-malware program had been installed, the scammer told the woman the system had discovered that her computer had been hacked.

She was told someone had deposited money that did not belong to her into her bank account and that she was responsible for turning it over immediately or risk police involvement. She ultimately paid the scammer more than $90,000, Schnell said.

In another case, a scammer pretended to be a resident’s grandchild in desperate need of money. Known as the “grandparent scam,” these cases often involve the need to keep the loan a secret.

The scammers often ask the grandparent to deposit the money on cards, called ReloadIt cards, that the scammer can then access.

In another instance, a resident was told she had just won a large sum of money in a Canadian lottery. Before she could get the payout, though, the woman was instructed to pay a series of processing fees and taxes. Other scams involved someone going door to door with a promise to later complete yard and handyman services for a fee paid upfront, Schnell said.

The residents lost $48,000, $28,000, $6,000 and $7,000, respectively, between mid-July and early August.

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“I think these (victims) feel embarrassed that they were convinced like this, but these (scammers) are incredibly skilled at telling stories. Sometimes they even bring in other people to engage in the scam (in case people) want to do any verification,” Schnell said.

That embarrassment, Schnell added, prevents many people from reporting the crimes. When they do, prosecuting such cases is extremely challenging as they tend to involve multiple states and sometimes other countries, Schnell said.

“We have a couple of these that we believe … have the potential for prosecution and potentially we can recover some of the money, but it won’t be without considerable challenges,” Schnell said.

Still, he encouraged anyone who’s been financially exploited to report it to police, noting that law enforcement agencies can share information with each other to try to home in on perpetrators and alert others to potential scams.

Knowing the signs to look for beforehand is the best way to prevent falling victim to financial exploitation, Schnell said.

The Maplewood Police Department offered the following tips to help recognize scams:

-- Never send money to individuals outside the United States that you have not met in person, particularly to people you’ve met only online.

-- Use social media privacy settings to minimize access to private information about you and your family.

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-- Hang up on “robocalls,” or recorded sales pitches where you are asked to press a number to talk to a representative.

-- Don’t trust your caller ID. Scammers can make their phone number look like it’s coming from a bank, the Internal Revenue Service, a police department or other agencies. If someone tells you to pay money for any reason or asks for financial information, hang up the phone. If you want to know the caller’s legitimacy, call back the correct number for the entity, not the one the scammer gave you to call or the number that appears on your caller ID. Talk to someone at the entity the caller is reporting to represent.

-- Before giving out information or money, talk with someone you trust. Scammers often demand that victims make quick decisions. When in doubt, call your local police department for assistance.

Related Topics: CRIME
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