The Mankato Department of Public Safety is increasingly frustrated by the number of scams that have victimized people in the community.
DPS Deputy Director Amy Vokal said one prevalent scam targets grandparents, saying, “‘Grandma, it’s me. I’m in Canada (or) I’m in Mexico, I’m in the hospital, I have to get money immediately or they won’t treat me.’ That has happened. People have been scammed out of thousands and thousands of dollars.” Vokal added that it’s important to check in with the grandchild in question after receiving such a call; they’re often found sitting in their dorm room or behind a video game console and not in any danger.
Real estate scams are also common. “People saying, ‘I’m renting a house, sign a lease, give us a payment, I’m not in town.'” Only after sending a deposit and first months rent do the victims learn that they had not been dealing with the owner of the home, and Vokal said it’s a common occurrence.
Especially given the current political climate surrounding immigration, Vokal said the Mankato refugee community is especially vulnerable to a common scam that claims, “‘I’m the IRS, if you don’t pay immediately you will be deported.’ Obviously, in a time like this, that’s even more concerning to some refugees.”
DPS Director Todd Miller said another common scam demands the immediate payment of unpaid taxes but, “The IRS does not call people by phone. They only contact people by mail and (on) official letterhead.”
He also said the request for payment in the form of a gift card is a huge red flag because, “No business, the IRS, no law enforcement agency will ever say, ‘Get me a gift card from Walmart.’ That should be a key that’s a scam. That’s money that is untraceable.”
He urges anyone that gets a phone call from a potential scammer to get law enforcement involved before sending any sort of payment. “You don’t have to act immediately,” he explained, “Stop, think, say, ‘I’ll call you back, give me a number.’ And then call the police.”
The FBI maintains a website called the Internet Crime Complaint Center that Vokal said includes every type of scam that has ever been reported and also includes a reporting form.