Phone scam targets elderly

Minneapolis police have received several reports in recent months from elderly residents who have been victims of a telephone scam. Amy Lavender, a crime prevention specialist in the 5th Precinct, e-mailed an advisory about the scam to residents earlier this month.

In most cases, the suspect poses as a grandchild who has gotten into financial trouble somehow. Car accidents, bail money and duty tax issues are all scenarios that have been used, Lavender said. Sometimes a second suspect is standing by to verify the scammer’s story. The amount of money requested has ranged from $2,500 to nearly $9,000.

In one instance in late December, an 89-year-old woman got a call from someone pretending to be her cousin, according to a police report. The caller, reportedly a female with a similar voice as the cousin, said she was in Canada shopping with girlfriends and had spent more than she was supposed to. The caller asked for $3,500 to pay a penalty fee to cross the border with her purchased items.

The elderly woman wired the money, only to find out later that her cousin was not in Canada. The money was picked up before she realized she had been swindled.

Lavender said the callers act desperate and prey on the love and generosity of the victims. She said anyone receiving a suspicious phone call should not hesitate to ask questions.

"Do not let emotions overtake sensibility," she said.

Lavender offered these tips:

• Try contacting a family member who can confirm the story.

• Try to contact the grandchild at a number that you know is accurate such as a home or cell phone number.

• Ask questions only a real grandchild would know the answer to.

• Refrain from mentioning other family members names or personal information.

• Remember that some impostors research the parties they are posing as and can answer basic questions about them.

• Do not wire any money until you are positive of the identity of the person calling you – there are no situations that cannot wait a few extra minutes to verify the identity of the caller.

• If you receive a fraudulent phone call, try to trace the number. You can initiate a trace by dialing *57 after you hang up. File a complaint with the police immediately.