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Phone scams making the rounds in Ramsey County
“If any one contacts you and requests gift cards for any law enforcement related reason — it is a scam.”
— Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office in an April 6 statement
No government agency, including the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, will ever ask residents to pay fines using gift cards. Notions like that, however, are exactly what scammers are using to weasel their way into other people’s pockets.
According to county law enforcement officials, area residents have experienced a recent uptick in suspicious phone calls. Though these calls can range in topic, in the end, they usually demand the same thing: money.
In an April 6 statement, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office laid out two examples of trending scams that folks in the north metro have either fallen victim to or reported in recent days.
“Two scams are currently very active and both appear to be targeting elderly persons,” the statement said.
• The “jury duty scam.” A scammer calls someone telling them that they didn’t appear for their scheduled jury duty and are thus at risk of a misdemeanor crime and penalty. The caller then tells the victim that he or she can stay out of jail by purchasing gift cards and calling back with the codes from those gift cards.
• The “grandchild in jail scam.” A scammer calls someone pretending to be a grandchild — sometimes using a muffled voice — who is in trouble and needs money to make bail and get out of jail. Again the caller often asks that the bail or fine be paid using gift card codes.
“Please don’t fall victim to telephone scams,” Ramsey County Sheriff Jack Serier said in the statement. “They are easy to spot if you know about them.”
One of the most significant indicators, as is pointed out in the statement, is that the calls often claim law enforcement agencies want gift cards — often Apple iTunes gift cards — as payment.
“If any one contacts you and requests gift cards for any law enforcement related reason — it is a scam,” the statement said.
RCSO is asking that people who receive these calls or similar ones simply hang up, write down as much information about the incident, including the caller’s contact information if available, and call 911 to report the crime.
According to Randy Gustafson, public communications and crime prevention coordinator for RCSO, more than a dozen reports flowed in over the last week regarding these or similar incidents. While many residents were simply reporting the calls, others had already sent thousands of dollars before realizing they were scammed.
Gustafson noted the documented reports may be just a small measure of the actual number and frequency of these scams. He said some residents who pick up the phone and know it’s a scam simply hang up and never make a report. Other residents who’ve fallen victim to these malicious calls, he explained, sometimes don’t report the incidents after realizing their true nature because they’re embarrassed.
“That’s what the scammers do,” Gustafson added. “They isolate people. They ramp victims up quickly and work on fear. They make people afraid and they sound very convincing while doing so.”
“Scammers are really good sales people,” Gustafson said. “They’re good at what they do, which is to frighten people into forgetting rational thought. And they’ll call back,” he added. “They’ll keep trying until the victim puts an end to it.”
Jesse Poole can be reached at email@example.com or at 651-748-7815.