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Watch for signs of a scam

Scammers looking for money have successfully swindled all types and ages of people, from grandparents to teenage cashiers. But knowing common characteristics of scams can make everyone more alert to suspicious behavior, police say.

While there are many variations, there are some scams the Red Wing Police Department has seen regularly in the area, said community service officer Tim Bohmbach.

Claiming they need money to get out of jail, pay a hotel bill or something similar, scammers will call elderly people and pretend to be a grandson or granddaughter in distress.

"They play on the heartstrings of a grandma or grandpa," Bohmbach said.

Often, the caller will be generic, saying "grandma" or "grandpa," though sometimes the victim will give away the grandchild's name when clarifying who is calling.

Other times the scammers will get information on the grandchildren from social networking sites like Facebook to be more convincing, Bohmbach said.

They will usually ask the victim to wire money to them.

The check scam usually appears in two different ways, Bohmbach said -- in the form of a payment or winning the lottery.

The payment version generally comes from a "buyer" when a victim sells something on Craigslist or a similar venue. The "buyer" will send a bad check to the seller for more than the owed amount.

Then he or she will ask the recipient to send back the rest, Bohmbach said, meaning the victim will lose out on both the sale money and the extra they sent back.

Other times victims receive a check and information saying they won a lottery, usually from another country. However, to claim the money, they are told they must pay a fee.

Sometimes, if victims make the first payment, the scammers will continue asking for more.

Victims might not realize the original check is no good until after they've made the payments.

This scam relies more on harassment. If a scammer can get access to someone's contact information, he or she will call the victim repeatedly on a cell phone, home phone and work phone. The caller demands payment for a loan the person never took out.

Eventually, though, the victim will get so frustrated with the calls that they make the payment anyway, Bohmbach said, sometimes compromising their bank account information.

As spring approaches, Bohmbach warned of phony door-to-door salespeople peddling anything from cleaning supplies to magazine subscriptions.

"Usually you'll never see that magazine," he said.

If someone comes to the door, residents can ask for a permit to verify the seller's validity. Bohmbach said all approved door-to-door salespeople must have a permit.

The Red Wing police saw the "quick change" scam frequently over the summer, Bohmbach said. In this situation, the scammer will buy something at a store with cash, then try to confuse the person at the register by asking for different variations of change or claiming they paid with a larger bill.

Bohmbach said these swindlers usually come from the metro area, "make the rounds" at a few stores in the area and are gone within a day or two.

And while it may seem like one of the easier cons for victims to catch, "(scammers) are very good at what they do," he said.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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