Seminar held for seniors on protecting against scams

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News
Chippewa County Sheriff Derek Olson speaks at the Safe Banking for Seniors seminar last week.

On Wednesday morning, Minnwest Bank of Montevideo hosted a seminar titled Identifying and Avoiding Scams, which provided information for area senior citizens on what types of scams exist, how scammers infiltrate bank accounts and more. Nicole Boelter, a Universal Banker at Minnwest Bank gave the presentation that included discussion from Kari Finberg, Fraud Analyst at Minnwest, Jonathan Schiller, Chief Security Officer at Minnwest, and representatives from local law enforcement Ken Schule, Chief of Police in Montevideo, and Derek Olson, Chippewa County Sheriff.

Boelter began the presentation by explaining what a scam is. “A scam is a trick that somebody, a con artist, plays on an unsuspecting person. The goal is to get money and the scam succeeds when the victim’s money is gone and then the scammer is gone too,” she said. “This is a scary stat to me. Almost 2.9 billion is lost annually to fraud against older Americans. That’s just to those who are considered senior citizens.” She also explained that people should not be embarrassed if they have encountered a scammer. “Scammers are masters of persuasion, they are the best actors you will run into. They will convince you of a story and find out what you’re vulnerable to. They quickly gain your trust and show you no mercy.”

Explaining how scammers gain access to people’s contact information, Boelter said, “Unfortunately due to technology today most of our information is out there on the world wide web. They like to prowl online, they like to look at social media sites. In the midwest, we’re very sympathetic. We’re sympathetic to causes or people in need and they may strike fear in you and sometimes when we get a little older, we’re lonely. Scammers will take these vulnerabilities and exploit them. You will feel pressured. They’ll insist that you do it now and do it quietly but they’ll do it in a way you won’t realize they’re telling you not to tell people about it.” 

Boelter presented a variety of scams and explained how scammers gain access to information and funds through those scams. Some of the scams covered included giveaway scams, imposter scams, phony charities, investment tips, home repair scams, tax scams, healthcare scams, and technology.”With giveaways scams, you usually get a letter, and they’ll even sometimes send you a check in the mail and it looks so realistic. I had a lady come to my desk so excited. She brought this letter and check and said ‘I think I won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse. I’ve been playing it for 20 years. I looked at the letter and everything looked great. They had a number on there and it said to call to pay the taxes upfront on the winnings. I broke her heart telling her it was probably a scam. They tell you they want you to cash the check upfront and send back the taxes If she did that the funds would come back to the bank in a couple of days saying no funds on the account.” 

Boelter also shared about scam letters that make claims that a person’s relative has passed away and left money to them. “If you ever get a letter like that, take it to the bank and let them help you. Let us help you because we’d love to help you. We can even send in the check for cashing and hold the funds for you so you can see if it’s real,” she said. The best advice Boelter could offer is to question all communication that is unexpected and share information among neighbors, friends, and family. She also offered that if anyone suspects a scammer has infiltrated their computer, that they should unplug it. “They can’t do anything if it’s unplugged. Shut it down and get it to someone locally who you know is trustworthy for computers and have them look at it and make sure everything is ok before you do something like your online banking again,” she said.

Chippewa County Sheriff Derek Olson also spoke, offering, “From a local law enforcement level, scams are very difficult to track and investigate due to the fact that scams are traced overseas which is a lot of the reason the Federal Trade Commission is often involved. The Attorney General's office also tracks and reports to the Federal Trade Commission as well. At the state level, they’ll do the reporting for you if you go through the Attorney General’s Office. They have a whole piece on how to report scams as well. A lot of times if we get a report of a scam we help to report to the Attorney General’s Office or if you’re able to we ask that you do that as well. But we both, Ken (Schule) and I very much appreciate it if you come up… even if you think it’s a scam and you feel like you’re wasting our time, you’re not wasting our time. Please at least let us know that you had a new scam that you had happen to you that we can report to the community because we do make a report of those incidents. All of our officers or deputies when they sign on for a shift read a rolling log of what happened when they were off duty. That helps educate all of our staff.”

Before ending the discussion, Boelter added, “There’s no way physically possible to go after every scammer. It’s a sad thing but there’s just no way we can get everybody. so the best way we can protect you is to get you knowledgeable and get you to share with everybody and give you the knowledge so that they don’t get to you.”