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Opinion - New level of phone scams gets personal

DETROIT LAKES - They're often referred to as scam "artists," but the level they sink to insults the profession.

People have got to realize just how sophisticated these rip-off crooks can be. The calls they make aren't harmless pranks. They're not always foreign-sounding voices pitching get-rich-quick schemes. They can get personal.

Consider what happened to an Alexandria resident a few days ago. He received a phone call one morning that went something like this:

"Grandpa -- you know who this is."

"Yes, I think I know that it is you, Robbie. Where are you?"

"Grandpa, I'm calling you from Ottawa, Canada. I'm here with a bunch of my buddies on a fishing trip. We got three nice walleyes yesterday."

"Why in the world would you go all the way to Canada to catch fish when you could do the same thing right here in Alexandria?"

"We've been planning this trip for a number of years and we finally got it started."

"Robbie, it sounds like you have a cold by the sound of your voice."

"We've been sleeping out and I think I caught a little cold in the process."

"What is it that made you call, Robbie?"

"Well, Grandpa, when we were finished with our evening meal last night, up comes the game warden and asked us for our fishing licenses. We all showed our licenses to him and then he said, 'Did you fellows know that you are fishing on posted land and that it carries a heavy fine?' This is where you come in Grandpa. The game warden told us what our fines are going to be and I said, 'Oh my goodness, I don't have that kind of money with me.' I need to ask you, Grandpa, if you can help me out of this jam I'm in."

"What kind of money are we talking about?"

"It's rather heavy."

"Just how much?"

"I'll need $3,400 by tomorrow. Please, I can pay you back right away."

"Why don't you get in touch with your parents and see what they say?"

"Grandpa, I'm so embarrassed and ashamed of myself that I just couldn't ask mom and dad to help me out."

"If that's the case, then why are you contacting your grandparents?"

"Because I know you would help me out."

"There's just no way."

Finally convinced there would be no money sent, the caller hung up.

As it turned out, of course, the call was just a scam. A phone call later, the grandfather learned that the real "Robbie" happened to be right in Alexandria at the time and knew nothing about any fishing trip to Canada.

In this case, the "grandpa" did the right thing by not falling for the scam and immediately alerting the Douglas County Sheriff's Office about it.

But the complexity of the scam -- pretending to be a family member in a jam, saying a "cold" had changed his voice and playing upon the trust of a loving grandpa -- shows the devious audacity of today's phone scammers. As the Alexandria grandpa summed up his experience, "We may not be as safe as we might think we are."

On Monday, the Todd County Sheriff's Office issued a warning about a wave of telephone scams that have been happening in the area. In those cases, the caller was a stranger asking for personal banking information.

The sheriff's office advises: Do not give out personal banking information on the phone to anyone you don't know. That would include those masquerading as family members in a jam.

-- Alexandria Echo Press