St. Paul police are warning residents that scammers asking for money are posing as St. Paul police, the FBI or the IRS.
St. Paul police have received “several” such reports since mid-February, said department’s spokesman Steve Linders.
“The swindlers are very sophisticated and they’re very manipulative, but we don’t know exactly where it’s coming from … ,” he said. “They seem to be preying on the elderly.”
In one case, police said, an officer answered a call to the Target on University Avenue on Feb. 14, where a store employee reported that a 92-year-old woman had told a cashier she was buying a $2,000 gift card for someone in law enforcement.
The woman had left, so the officer drove to her home. She told him that people had called and identified themselves as St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell and deputy Chief Paul Iovino.
The callers told the woman they were working with New York City police on a “very large international investigation,” Linders said. The woman said that people posing as Axtell and Iovino called her to vouch for the New York officer, “detective Green.”
The woman said that “detective Green” instructed her to buy one $2,000 gift card and then await further instructions. Someone who said he was the detective called while the officer was at the woman’s home and hung up when the officer took the phone and identified himself.
The most recent scammers are believed to be foreigners abroad, although some cases have been local, Linders said. They often use computer programs that trick recipients into believing that the call is coming from a legitimate number, and often ask for money in the form of gift cards, he added.
In the Feb. 14 case, the scammer’s number appeared to be a legitimate St. Paul police phone number.
“The first thing people should do is hang up” if they receive such calls, Linders said. “The second thing they should do is call the St. Paul police department and file a report.”
Anyone who has been scammed should not be embarrassed and should report it, Linders urged. Police and similar agencies do not call soliciting money, he added.
Reports of possible fraud can be made to St. Paul police at 651-291-1111.