Springtime scams bloom during spring break, recent natural disasters

It's a terrible thing to say, but we'd like to encourage our readers - senior citizens in particular - to be more cynical ... at least when someone asks you to send money.

It's a terrible thing to say, but we'd like to encourage our readers - senior citizens in particular - to be more cynical ... at least when someone asks you to send money.

According to a press release from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), the scam to bilk seniors by pretending to be their grandchildren in trouble spikes each springtime. This year scammers also will target those wanting to help disaster victims in Japan, as well as those impacted by upcoming flooding in Minnesota.

Grandchildren Scams

Authorities are warning Minnesota grandparents to exercise caution if they receive phone calls from "grandchildren" requesting money for an urgent situation. Hallmarks of the fraud include a person posing as a grandchild, or a third-party representing them such as a police officer, attorney or border agent; an urgent need for immediate funds; and a demand for secrecy.

Typically in the scam, the caller will claim they need funds wired immediately to cover a vehicle crash, an arrest, border taxes or medical needs. Stressing their embarrassment, the caller urges the grandparent not to inform their parents or friends.


The timing of spring break travel adds legitimacy to the calls, with many fake calls claiming to be from popular student warm-weather destinations such as Mexico and Jamaica. However, calls purporting to be from Canada lend credibility to the scam throughout the year, given its proximity to Minnesota.

Jim Arlt, DPS Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED) director, offers tips to grandparents and family members on how to avoid being taken by the increasingly popular grandchild-in-

trouble scheme:

  • Make sure of the caller's identity. Don't provide names or other information. Ask something that only the grandchild would know.
  • Verify the location of the family member by calling another family member or friend.

Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers depend on immediacy and will emotionally leverage love and embarrassment to induce their targets to wire funds quickly.
Disaster Relief Scams

Additionally, the recent earthquake/tsunami in Japan brings forth e-mails and phone calls from individuals claiming to be from reputable relief organizations. As a matter of routine, scams follow such incidents as relief groups ramp up their response efforts. Yet many well-known responders, including the Red Cross, do not proactively solicit funds.

"Donate by calling an organization's phone number or visiting their website," cautions Arlt. "If you are solicited by phone or on the Web, you should be wary - do not give out your Social Security number, credit card or bank account information."

Minnesotans also are asked to be vigilant of those soliciting funds to help the state's flooding victims.

Readers are asked to report suspected fraud to the AGED by calling toll-free 866-347-0911; submit information at; or forward suspect emails to .


Jana Peterson and the Minnesota

Department of Public Safety (DPS)

Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division

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