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Guest editorial: Beware of intimidation scams

By Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General

Some criminals will say almost anything to try to scam people — including threatening arrest, lawsuits, imprisonment or even physical harm. While the scams take several different forms, the goal is the same—to pressure people to pay money or reveal personal or financial information. Below are a few examples:

Tax Scams. “Cindy” received a call from someone who identified himself as an IRS agent. The “agent” told Cindy that she owed $5,000 in taxes and that the IRS would file a lawsuit against her if she did not wire money by day’s end. Cindy became suspicious because she knew that the IRS contacts people about such matters by U.S. Mail. She hung up and called her tax preparer, who confirmed the call was a scam. The individual repeatedly called Cindy for the next few days, but she did not answer, and the calls eventually stopped.

Phony Debt Collection Scams. “Phil” and his family members received calls from an individual who claimed he owed a $750 debt. The individual demanded immediate payment, but refused to provide any information about his company or the debt. He told Phil that he would send the police to Phil’s home if the debt was not paid within 24 hours. Phil told his family to ignore future calls from the scam artist.

Imposter Scams. “Susan” received a call from an individual who purported to be her grandson. He told her that he was in jail in Mexico and needed her to wire money immediately to pay for bail. He asked her not to speak with his parent because he didn’t want to get into trouble and then handed the phone to his supposed attorney. The fake “attorney” told Susan that her “grandson” would be sentenced to five years in prison if she did not wire $2,500 for his bail that afternoon. After the call ended, Susan called her grandson’s mother and learned that the grandson was at home. When the scam artists called back, Susan did not answer their calls.

Utility Shut‑off Scams. “George” received a call from a woman who claimed to represent his utility company. The “representative” told George that he owed $275 on his utility bill and asked him to send the money via a reloadable payment card. When George said that he wanted to check his account online, the woman told him that his electricity would be shut off unless he paid the bill immediately. George hung up and called his utility company at the telephone number on his most recent bill. The company confirmed that he was current on his payments and the call was a scam.

Advice for Avoiding Intimidation Scams

• Don’t be intimidated into paying money you don’t owe or disclosing your personal or financial information in the face of scare tactics.

• Hang up if something doesn’t seem right.

• Don’t be rushed. The scam artists who perpetrate intimidation scams try to create a false sense of urgency to get people to act before they have time to think the situation through.

• When a caller claims to represent a specific company or agency, ask for his or her name and employee number. Then call the company or agency back using an independent and trusted phone number, like the telephone number in your billing statement or the phone book.

• Don’t send money via hard-to-track methods, such as wire transfer, overnight delivery or reloadable cards, unless you are absolutely certain that you are sending money to a real friend or family member. Money sent by these methods is almost never recoverable.

• Information about people is commonly available online and elsewhere. Scam artists often use this information to legitimize their claims.

For more information on these scams, call the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office at (651) 296-3353 or (800) 657-3787, or visit our website at ag.state.mn.us.

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