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home : opinion : opinion May 24, 2016

12/17/2013 1:48:00 PM

By Senator David Senjem

Recently my senate office was contacted concerning an area resident reporting how they became victim of a troublesome scam, a scam where a con artist impersonated a grandchild in distress in need of emergency funds. Of course the grandparent wanted to help their loved one, so they did whatever they could in this urgent situation. They opened their wallet without hesitation.

Unfortunately, they became a victim of a scam known as the "grandparent scam." This is a type of fraud that involves phony calls from people claiming to be their relative in trouble. In this situation, the con artist investigated the identity of the grandchild before the initial phone call. The impostor (assuming the name of the grandchild) proceeded to describe some type of pressing trouble and begged the grandparent to immediately wire money through Western Union to pay for the emergency. The personal nature and urgency of these calls causes people to let their guard down and act quickly without verifying the validity of the call. Sadly, if you wire money it may be impossible to retrieve once it is picked up at the other end. Law enforcement agencies have little success in recovering wired funds.

This type of scam can be so convincing. It's important to be aware of this and other scams that target the love and generosity of grandparents. Criminals often target older people, but in reality anyone of any age can be a target of the scam, and awareness is the best defense against scams.

Scams have become increasingly common. In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission recorded 743 incidences of scammers impersonating a family member or friend in need of money. Since 2010, the FTC recorded more than 40,000 scams and it is estimated that many more go unreported.

Through social media websites, it's easier for criminals to learn details of personal relationships so they can imitate loved ones by name. Newspapers and obituaries are also good sources of personal information. Con artists may also impersonate attorneys, police officers or bail bondsmen to create a sense of urgency and legitimacy.

A new law going into effect January 1, 2014 aims to help prevent these types of scams and make it easier for law enforcement to track con artists. The law will allow wire transfer company employees, law enforcement and other individuals to request someone who they believe could be a future victim of a scam to be placed on a "no transmit list" maintained by the commerce commissioner. Also, transmitter companies will be prohibited from authorizing receipt of transfers at unspecified locations and be required to notify senders if their money is being received at unspecified locations. Plus the commissioner will be allowed to limit the amount of funds wired to countries with high incidences of fraud.

Here are some tips to avoid becoming a victim of the "grandparent" scam or other types of fraud:

• Be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly asking for cash.

• Verify any supposed emergency by calling friends and family before wiring money.

• Develop a secret code or "password" with family members that can be used to verify a true emergency.

• Limit personal information, for example vacation plans, shared on social media sites.

If you or someone you love have fallen victim to this or other similar fraud report it to your local law enforcement agency, Western Union or transmitting company, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Minnesota Attorney General Office.

Constituents wishing to contact Senator David Senjem or schedule an appointment can do so by calling (651)296-3903, by emailing him at, or by sending mail to his senate office at 113 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155

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