While most people think about festivities and gift lists during the holiday season, there is another massive trend kicking into gear - a flood of scam e-mails.
New Ulm Police Department (NUPD) Commander Dave Borchert said law enforcement is taking on the annual jump in scam e-mail reports, which typically surges from Thanksgiving until New Year's Day.
The case load has gone from roughly one to two unique scam e-mails reported each week to approximately 10 unique reports per week. Luckily, a large portion of the reports come from people informing the police of scams they received. However, there have been several incidents that resulted in monetary losses, including one in which an individual had $3,000 stolen.
Borchert suspects there are more people scammed than are reported. The department's experience shows people are often too embarrassed with being scammed to report the incidents.
"The biggest thing we can do is raise awareness and increase prevention. There are many things we can do, but some of these [scams] are very hard for us do anything about, particularly if it's in another country," said Borchert.
The most common types of scam e-mails are solicitations. Recent examples claimed the recipient was a secret shopper or would receive money for monitoring something. E-mail perpetrators snag victims by sending a check for the person to cash, then requesting a check back for filing, which is then used to steal from the person's account.
Borchert said a recent threatening scam e-mail, which was also sent to The Journal, is very uncommon. The e-mail claims to be from somebody hired to kill the recipient by a close friend. The e-mail claims to have found the recipient innocent of the claimed crimes and is willing to give up the names of people that hired him for $5,000. The e-mail threatens to instead carry out the job if the recipient contacts the police and warns against telling close family about the e-mail, warning they could be the ones who hired him.
"This kind of [scam e-mail] is disturbing. Luckily, it's very uncommon," said Borchert.
The scam e-mail that has caught the most people in the area informs recipients they have won the Canadian lottery and requests personal information to complete a filing fee.
"We just want to make this clear: If you didn't buy a ticket in the Canadian lottery, then you didn't win the Canadian lottery," said Borchert.
Borchert said NUPD has been working regularly with police departments in other states to chase down scams originating within the United States. The most problematic ones have been from international sources. Some scams originate from Nigeria, but Canada is the most common source for NUPD. The frequency of scams from Canada may be due to Minnesota being a border state.
"Canada has been very difficult to work with in pursuing cases," said Borchert, "The officials we contact there have been very nice and hard working. But, Canadian officials simply won't help until it reaches the level of a federal task force."
He has only seen a federal task force formed once for a scam that affected an area resident. The formation of a task force is very difficult to get because the criteria is often dependent on the resources of the federal agencies and whether the scam has affected a large number of people with a high cumulative amount of stolen money.
"This is why our best efforts are in prevention. It's best if we can stop people from losing money to begin with," said Borchert, "It's just a matter of using your head. If it looks suspicious at all, then don't do it. People can also contact the police department to check it out."
Borchert said the department is always willing to accept any information on a scam e-mail. The more information received about the scams, the more opportunity there is to raise awareness and track data on the crimes.
People wishing to report a scam e-mail they have received or those wish to report their money stolen through scam e-mails can contact Borchert at 507-233-6760 or the general police department at 507-233-6750.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)