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Scam artists hit elderly DL couple

Violet and Jim Rieger

Violet and Jim Rieger are out $4,500 -- sadder but wiser to the world of scam artists -- after falling victim to the latest of what seems to be a never-ending string of "grandparent scams" targeting seniors in the area.

The couple lived in Detroit Lakes for about 40 years before moving to Pelican Rapids 14 years ago.

About a month ago, the Riegers were going about their business when they got a phone call.

"And I heard, 'Hi Grandma...', and it sounded just like our Grandson, David Jr., who is serving in the Army in Iraq," said Vi Rieger.

The man on the phone told her that he was home on leave and had decided to go down to Mexico with a buddy.

He said they rented a car down there and had gotten in an accident.

"He said he needed $4,500 to cover the costs and he needed it right away because he was running out of time and needed to get back to Iraq," said Vi Rieger.

The man asked them not to tell his father, who is also in the Army, stationed in Kentucky.

"I just didn't feel good about it," said Jim Rieger, adding, "I should have went with my gut, but I didn't."

The Riegers asked for a phone number to call him back, but the man told them he was on a pay card, and there was no way for them to do so.

The Riegers said although they had a little bit of uncertainty nagging at them, the voice on the other end convinced them to act.

"It was that voice," said Vi Riegers, "Our grandson has a different kind of voice, and it sounded just like him."

So, the Riegers say they went to the Detroit Lakes Kmart and wired the money through Western Union to Mexico, as instructed by the man on the phone.

The Riegers went home and said they got another call from the man.

"He was asking us for some kind of pin number," said Jim Rieger, "and so I said, 'no, I don't tell you a pin number, you tell me. And I started asking him questions that only David Jr. would know.'"

That's when the man hung up, and the Riegers knew something was wrong.

They called their son, who is the father of their grandson.

"He said, 'stop the payment ... I know my son is still in Iraq, not Mexico!'" said Vi Rieger.

Their son was able to see their grandson on a webcam at that very moment, sleeping in his bed in Iraq.

But it was too late; the money was already gone.

Calls and letters to the Minnesota Attorney General's office did nothing in terms of being able to recover the money, as the scammers left no evidence of who they were, at least anything available to American authorities.

"Western Union wouldn't give us anything either," said Jim Rieger.

The Riegers are now left wondering who this person was that sounded so much like their grandson, and who knew he was in the Army and was supposed to be going on leave.

"Because he really was getting ready to go on leave, so we think maybe he had to have known him at sometime and knew his voice and things about him," said Jim Rieger.

According to the Minnesota Attorney General's office, this is a common scam, and they often include a request to have the money wired quickly, secretively, and to a foreign country.

Experts also say that if somebody receives a call like this, they can hang up and dial *57.

This will trace the caller's phone number and forward a record of it to the phone company's caller identification center.

The Riegers have resigned themselves to the fact that they will probably never see a dime of their lost money, but are hoping their story will act as a warning to other trusting grandparents.

"We just don't want it to happen to anybody else," said Vi Rieger, with her husband adding,

"And the next time someone calls, I'll go with my gut feeling -- that I know."