Phone scam

An Owatonna woman was recently scammed out of $3,000 after a caller impersonating a city police officer instructed her to make a deposit in a Bitcoin machine to avoid arrest. (File photo)

A telephone scam circulating throughout the local area cost one victim several thousand dollars, according to the city’s detective bureau commander.

Last week the Police Department received two separate reports of someone posing as an Owatonna officer and asking for money.

“What is unique about this particular scam is that they used an officer name of someone in our department,” said Capt. Eric Rethemeier. “Anybody can find that information on our website, but that’s a first that I’ve seen in my time here.”

According to the report, an Owatonna female was scammed out of $3,000 after she received a phone call in which the caller said that her identity had been stolen and was being used for drug trafficking and money laundering in Texas. The caller told the victim that the Social Security Administration, U.S. Marshals Service, and an Owatonna police officer were en route to arrest her if she didn’t make a large payment to a Bitcoin machine in Mankato. Rethemeier said that the caller put another person on the phone, who then used the name of an active Owatonna officer to give this information to the victim.

“The person had information about the victim related to her finances, her bank, where her auto loan is at, and so she thought it was a legitimate call,” Rethemeier said. “But no government agency, law enforcement, or any type of legitimate business would have you pay in the form of Bitcoin for anything, let alone to avoid going to jail.”

Rethemeier said that asking for payments in the form of Bitcoin, gift cards or money orders are clear red flags that someone is being scammed. He added that the Police Department does not handle or accept payments of any kind for any purpose. That is all handled through the Steele County court.

“The best defense you have when being scammed is to slow down and listen to what the people are telling you,” Rethemeier said. “Once they start talking about forms of payment, that’s where you really need to recognize the red flags. Hang up and call dispatch, they can verify that the information that you’re been told is not correct.”

When it comes to scams, Rethemeier said that fraud cases take place in the area every day. He said that more often than not individuals do not fall victim to the scams and simply report the information to law enforcement. Rethemeier said that telephone scams are prevalent right now throughout the area, and that it can be difficult for law enforcement to investigate them when they involve phone apps that allow the user to disguise their phone numbers.

“The real important thing to remember is to just slow down – there is no urgency with this,” Rethemeier said, adding that once a victim makes any type of payment the money is more often than not gone within minutes with no way to trace it. “If something is unbelievable, call back to the dispatch center and ask to speak with an officer.”

Rethemeier said that in the other report last week of the same type of scam, the intended victim did not comply with the caller and simply reported it to the police.

Reach Reporter Annie Granlund at 507-444-2378 or follow her on Twitter @OPPAnnie. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

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