Callers spoof local numbers to scam residents

Staff Writer

The first time Ernie Oldakowski got a call from someone in Little Falls asking why he had called their number, he said he hadn’t and both hung up. After a couple more times, Oldakowski said something must be going on.

Remembering some calls he had been getting that appeared to be local, but turned out to be scammers, Oldakowski contacted his telephone company and explained the situation.

The company said it was a case of “caller ID spoofing,” where scam artists in different parts of the world will appear to be a local number to get people to pick up the phone — and Oldakowski hasn’t been the only one affected.

Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen said another scam attempt involved a scammer posing as a local bank and getting someone to offer up personal information to get a better interest rate.

Larsen said one of the biggest pieces of advice they have for someone in these situations is to stay calm and verify who you are talking to.

“Number one, don’t give  out personal information over the phone,” Larsen said. “If you don’t know the person you’re talking to, you can always call back, or in this case you could certainly go to the bank and do business face-to-face.”

While in some cases, the scammer can re-route your call back to them if you call the fake number back, it could also end up with a busy signal or saying the line is out of service, Larsen said.

Another popular fake persona for the scam artists is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which they’ll impersonate to pressure people into paying them by saying they owe money, Larsen said.

The scammers will try to put a rush on things by saying if the victim doesn’t pay now, they’ll call law enforcement on them, Larsen said.

He said people should stay calm and if they have concerns, they can call the Sheriff’s Department to file a report.

These reports are followed as far as the department can go, Larsen said. If money has been stolen, it can be turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Secret Service.

In addition, the information is collected to educate both the public and lawmakers about what is going on.

“If we’re going to alert the community as to what’s going on, we need to know every single scam that’s coming through,” Larsen said.

Other scams the department sees include;

  • Email scams where an email sender poses as someone else to steal personal information or get victims to pay money;
  • What Larsen calls the “grandparents’ scam,” where scammers use information taken from someone’s social media page to con grandparents or other relatives into believing their relative needs to be bailed out of jail or something to that effect. Larsen recommends being careful about what is posted online, especially times you’ll be on vacation or away; and
  • Scams from people pretending to sell medical devices.

One of Larsen’s biggest recommendations for dealing with these scams is to just not pick up the phone if you don’t know the number, even if it’s local.

Oldakowski said after learning Congress is considering new rules about caller ID spoofing, he urges people to call their representatives about the issue.