Public safety beat: Financial fraud crooks are getting smarter

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 12, 2014 - 6:14 PM
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Ramsey County Attorney John Choi

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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East metro authorities gathered recently to discuss a crime trend they say is draining people of their life savings and going underreported: financial fraud.

The crime will only increase, they warned, as more criminals trade violent crimes for financial crimes due to the low-risk, high-reward tradeoff.

Financial crimes often yield high cash payoffs, while convictions carry relatively light prison sentences because such crimes often don’t involve physical harm, panelists at the East Metro Crime Prevention Coalition’s training session said last week.

“You don’t have to have money to be targeted,” said panelist Lou Stephens, a special agent in charge with the U.S. Secret Service. “Our children are targeted. We’re targeted.”

The coalition is a partnership of the Ramsey, Dakota and Washington County attorney’s and sheriff’s offices. Each year the group trains dozens of officers, deputies, attorneys and others on a range of topics.

Financial fraud can be committed a number of ways. It can be complex and high-tech, or simple and direct. It can be family members stealing from elderly and vulnerable relatives, identity theft via stolen mail or the Internet, Ponzi schemes, insurance fraud or something that panelists called “the grandparent scam.”

Grandparent scam? That’s when criminals call elderly victims and pretend to be a grandchild mired in crisis in another state or country. The scammer asks the victim to wire money.

Panelists said financial crimes can be difficult to investigate because they involve loads of paperwork, require specialized training and often are committed across borders where the United States can’t investigate without approval.

“They are very intensive types of cases,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.

Authorities urged victims to report financial crimes, which often go unreported due to the shame many victims feel — especially when relatives are suspects.

“I tip my hat to these crooks,” said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput. “They’re getting smarter, and we have to get smarter.”

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