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Scammers con Nevis residents out of $3,400

Last week, the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office received five complaints about scams from residents and uncovered some new ways scammers are trying to part you and your money.

Last week, the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office received five complaints about scams from residents and uncovered some new ways scammers are trying to part you and your money.

"We've just been pounded with stuff lately," said investigator Jerry Tatro.

Tatro said the public needs to know the sheriff's office and other law enforcement agencies don't have the manpower or resources to pursue these complaints and many of them are coming from overseas.

"We can't do anything and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension can't either. It's gotten to be overwhelming," Tatro said. "We cannot recover the funds; they're gone. All we can do is try to educate people."

In one case reported last week, a Nevis resident lost $3,400.

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Tatro said the basic scam was the same with a different twist. The Nevis man received a letter with a business logo and a check that appeared to be from State Farm Insurance drawn on the Bank of America.

The letter urged the recipient to deposit the check immediately, keeping a percentage for himself and sending the rest to the "business."

The check was counterfeit so he used his own money, Tatro said.

"It's baseline fraud," he said. "The money you are taking out for yourself is your money. What they're really saying is send us your money and we will keep ours."

In this case, Tatro said, the scammers were so aggressive that after the resident sent them money, they sent two more notices with checks, all saying he won a prize when, in reality, "they fleeced him."

Some residents have received similar letters with a Powerball letterhead and a bogus check or checks.

Tatro also did some sleuthing on his own last week, and found a scammer's notice among the listings on the myJobsHQ link on the Enterprise and all Forum-owned newspapers' Web sites.

The posting was for a Rep Account Manager/Bookkeeping for a "world leading cashmere business." It promises people will start sending you money some of which you can keep as a way of avoiding taxes.

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The response was a UPS Express delivery with five counterfeit American Express Travelers Cheques for $500 each. A letter instructs the recipient to cash the checks at a bank, deduct a "commission" of 10 percent and send the balance Western Union to Ghana.

The listing has been removed from myJobsHQ, but Tatro said it shows how brazen scammers are. While law enforcement goes to newspapers to help educate the public, scammers found a way to use a newspaper's Web site to take money from residents.

In addition to being cautious and skeptical of offers received in the mail or found on Web sites or via e-mail, Tatro advises citizens can turn in their own complaints at www.ic3.gov .

State crackdown

The state is also cracking down on scammers.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) in collaboration with several public and private partners recently announced an effort to enforce direct mail, e-mail and phone fraud.

Each year, "foreign lottery and sweepstakes" scams result in $8-$10 million in losses to Minnesotans - an amount officials claim is low due to under-reporting.

Officials say this is the first model of a statewide, coordinated, sustained fraud enforcement effort in the US.

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There are many variations of these frauds but in most cases a potential victim is asked to send money to claim a prize or to be entered into a drawing. These scams include e-mails that are purportedly from a party in a foreign country. Senior citizens are a common target.

"These frauds are devastating, and the people behind them will stop at nothing to con vulnerable citizens," says John Willems, special agent in-charge of the state's Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division.

"It's critical Minnesotans recognize and report these frauds so authorities can track down the offenders."

Willems says the campaign's partners will play a critical role to raise awareness about fraud to their communities and customers. These groups will secure fraud reports and input information into a law enforcement-accessible database.

Technological enforcement tactics will be employed to disrupt fraudulent communication activities to shut down phone lines and e-mail addresses.

Officials urge citizens who receive fraudulent letters, e-mails or phone calls to report them quickly by calling the Minnesota Board of Aging LinkAge line, 800-333-2433.

Fraudulent e-mails should be forwarded to dps.reportfraud@state.mn.us .

Citizens are asked to send original fraudulent documents to the DPS Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, 444 Cedar St., Suite 133, St. Paul, MN 55101. Agents will work with the US Postal Inspection Service to follow mail flow. DPS and law enforcement agencies will also review fraud trends to detect if scam activities are occurring in specific areas of the state.

Fraud enforcement campaign partners include the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota State Lottery, AARP, Better Business Bureau, Bremer Bank, Minnesota Bankers Association, Minnesota Board on Aging, Minnesota Credit Union Network, the state's Chiefs of Police and Sheriffs associations and MoneyGram.

luannh@parkrapidsenterpise.com

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