Spotting and Avoiding Scams: An Open Discussion in Minnesota

Spotting and Avoiding Scams: An Open Discussion in Minnesota

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Minnesotans are known to be charitable givers, hence the moniker, “Minnesota Nice.” Unfortunately, as Lisa Jemtrud of the Better Business Bureau warned, that niceness “is a reason for the increasing number of scams that are being reported in Minnesota over the past few years.”

The numbers also indicate that minorities and the elderly are among the most likely to be scammed. In an effort to amplify the message to those affected communities, New America Media partnered with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to host a community-wide roundtable discussion on “Spotting and Avoiding Scams in Our Communities” at The Open Book in Minneapolis, MN on Wednesday, May 24, 2017.

“Inviting the ethnic media to the table is the most effective way to directly reach each of these different pockets of the community, because they are the eyes and ears of their respective communities,” explained Sandy Close, executive director at New America Media, and moderator of the event.

According to Todd Kossow, Director of the Midwest Region of the FTC, the latest survey commissioned by the FTC in 2011 found that minorities were almost twice as likely to be scammed. The survey showed that an estimated 17.3% of African-Americans and 13.4% of Latino-Americans were victims-- compared to whites, which was at 9%.

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“We believe those numbers may even be worse than the survey shows,” explained Kossow. “Because there is the question of access and a willingness to report the scam, which may be barriers to some of the most vulnerable victims in society.”

A few members of the ethnic media spoke up about the fear of approaching federal agencies because of their presumptive connections with ICE. Iris Altamirano from NewPublica expressed the increasing anxiety her community has been suffering ever since the 2016 presidential elections.

“Let’s face it, under the current political climate we are living in, Latinos are living in fear of ICE and all the deportations that are going on around us. So if we were the victim of a scam, it might be likely that we wont report it to the FTC because we cannot trust the government right now.”

Several of the law enforcement officials in the room concurred that although those fears are warranted, that they do not ask for immigration status when a victim reports a scam.

Susan Adams Loyd spoke up from the crowd to declare that the Better Business Bureau would never take immigration status into consideration.

“I’m the CEO of the BBB in Minnesota and North Dakota, and I can tell you directly that at the BBB we are more concerned about the scam and getting it into our database so that we can help consumers avoid being scammed. We are not a government agency and have no connections to government. We are advocates for consumers.”

Throughout the discussion, participants asked questions in regards to specific scams they have been exposed to, spanning from imposter scams to internet related scams.

One of the fast rising scams currently being tracked are immigration and IRS scams. According to Jennifer Leach from the FTC, scammers are targeting and calling immigrants to warn them of their status by using fake caller ID call back numbers and making it look like legitimate business.

“They threaten people, telling them they’re under investigation, or there’s a legal case against them. They throw around terms like ‘affidavit’ and ‘allegations’ and of course they ask you to pay up. They even threaten to deport you if you don’t pay.”

Kazoua Kong-Thao, Chief Deputy Director at Hmong American Partnership, revealed to the group, “My husband was called by agents of the IRS demanding payment for some back taxes that he supposedly owed.”

“This is an educated man who was panicking because the scammer was so believable and knew personal information about us. Because he wanted to resolve the debt, my husband went to buy iTune cards at BestBuy because the scammer had demanded it. By the time my husband realized it was just a scam, he was so embarrassed that he didn’t even want to tell me about it.”


One of the warning bells that a scam is being perpetrated, explained Todd Kossow, is when somebody asks for a money-wire or money order as payment.

“In fact, the FTC recently won a $586 million settlement from Western Union because we were able to find that this money wire company knowingly allowed scammers to transfer and receive money that came from scandalous activities.”

That settlement is one of the reasons the FTC wants to reach out to the broader communities, Kossow added. “As we proceed with dispersing the settlement back to victims who used Western Union to wire funds to scammers, we will need your help to spread the word to potential victims, many who live in your communities.”

There was wide agreement that keeping the lines of communication open between federal agencies and the community was an important step to preventing scams in the future. But as Tom Gitaa from M’Shale African Newspaper emphasized, “the resources and commitment level needs to be from both sides.”

Law enforcement representatives invited media to continue the discourse beyond this initial meeting. But most importantly, each agency emphasized the importance of publicizing their fraud reporting hotlines.

“Not only is making the report important for us to track the scams,” explained Jason Pleggenkuhle, from the MN Attorney General’s Office. “But this is also the first step to try and retrieve your losses and to prosecute the criminals behind the scam.”

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RESOURCES:

FTC Scam Hotline: 1-877-FTC-HELP

Better Business Bureau Scam Stopper: www.bbb.org/scamtracker

MN Attorney General Office: 1-800-657-3787