Back in February, the Eagan Police Department received a call from a 61-year-old woman with a sad story.
She explained that she’d met a man on a dating site – rich and European. They’d been messaging for a while when he allegedly told her he needed money. It was just a temporary thing, he said. He had some properties in California and New York he wanted to fix up and sell. Then he could move to Eagan and be with her.
She wired him thousands of dollars. It wasn't until she saw other, unauthorized transfers on her account that she began to suspect he may not have been who he said he was. But by the time she called the police, she'd lost $126,700.
Few things are as lonely as finding out you’ve been had. When people become victims of grifts like these, they sometimes hesitate to report them because they feel ashamed for having trusted the wrong person. It might have helped this woman to know she wasn’t the first person to be taken advantage of this way.
In fact, she wasn’t even the first person this year in her own city. That unenviable honor goes to a 60-year-old woman back in January. Over the last six months, she’d wired $85,400 to a man she met online who claimed to be a U.S. Army captain sanctioned in Afghanistan. One day, she'd called his number and found it was dead -- disconnected with no explanation.
As it happens, Eagan has been experiencing a banner year for scammers. Police say that, so far, there have been 26 reported incidents, which took residents for a total of more than $440,000. To illustrate the scope, the department recently released a compendium of all the scam reports it’s received over the past nine months.
Some are small, like the married couple in their 70s who lost $100 to a Craigslist ticket seller. Some – like a vulnerable adult scammed multiple times for $160,000 – are devastating.
The victims come in all ages. In July, a 21-year-old woman was tricked into sending $1,000 in Target gift cards to a person pretending to be a CEO. A 34-year-old man lost $2,000 because a person pretending to be a U.S. Marshal told him someone had stolen his identity and was using it to smuggle drugs. A 33-year-old woman paid nearly $1,500 to a stranger threatening to have her deported.
Police have been trying to track down the culprits, but it's often hard in situations like these. Of the several online dating scams in town this year, they've located one possible suspect who may or may not be in Ohio. That's about it.
Officers say the best way to keep yourself from getting scammed is simply understanding that this kind of thing happens all the time. The Federal Trade Commission received 29,000 fraud reports in Minnesota last year. They’re often formulaic scenarios that prey on real fears, hoping the panic will make the victim act without thinking.
But no U.S. Marshal will accept Visa gift cards as payment for calling off an arrest warrant. No grandson locked in jail needs $5,000 in a padded envelope sent to Tampa. No genuine suitor will ask you for hundreds of thousands of dollars before meeting you.