In January, a 61-year-old Eagan woman reported to police that she wired $85,400 over six months to a man she met on dating website and said he was a U.S. Army captain stationed in Afghanistan and needed money for clothes and necessities.
A month later, a 60-year-old Eagan resident fell to a similar scam after she wired a man she met on a dating website $126,700. He said he needed the money to sell his homes in California and New York so he could move from Europe and be with her in Eagan.
The cases are among 26 reports Eagan police say they have taken this year from residents who’ve been victims to scams through telephone calls, emails and from websites, resulting in a total loss of more than $440,000.
On Wednesday, police released information about the cases — saying there has been both a rise in the number of them in the city and the amount of money swindled — as a way to educate residents with the hope of combating the problem.
“Scams succeed because they look like the real thing and catch people off guard when they’re not expecting it,” said Eagan police spokesman officer Aaron Machtemes. “The best way to prevent a scam is to be alert to the fact that scams exist, and then learn what warning signs look like.”
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The scams this year vary from supposed utility companies requesting payment, to U.S. marshals claiming the victim’s identity is being used to smuggle drugs from Mexico.
In most of the cases, the scammers have persuaded the victims to send payments in non-traditional methods such as gift cards or wire transfers, Machtemes said.
But in one instance last month, a 79-year-old man mailed $4,908 cash in a padded envelope to Tampa, Fla., after being told his grandson was in jail.
“Often, sadly, it’s vulnerable adults that fall victim to these sorts of things,” Machtemes said. “People literally give everything they can because they feel like a loved one is in need and they need the money.”
The victims this year range in age — from 86- to 21-years-old — and have varying degrees of education, socio-economic status and life experience, Machtemes said.
“Everyone is susceptible to being scammed,” he said.
Most scams work to incite panic and require a person to take immediate action, he said.
Like when a caller in February threatened deportation to a 33-year-old woman unless she bought Google gift cards and sent him the information on the back of them. She did, and was out about $1,500.
Eagan police investigate every scam report, but mostly come to dead ends because typically the scammers are overseas and the money is hard to track, he said.
“These victims are losing a lifetime in savings and often do not have much recourse to get it back,” he said. “The main strategy to combat this is through prevention. Education about scams could prevent someone from becoming financially and emotionally ruined.”
Machtemes said the public should follow tips recommended by the Federal Trade Commission. They include hanging up on robocalls; talking to a family member or friend before giving up money or personal information; not paying upfront for a promise; and being skeptical about free trial offers.
The tips can be found online at consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0060-10-things-you-can-do-avoid-fraud.