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Area agencies, organizations call attention to scams targeting seniors

In the next few weeks, people can attend scam awareness seminars in Lake City and Rochester to learn more about scams and protecting oneself from them.

Rodney Bartsch
Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsch.
We are part of The Trust Project.

LAKE CITY — Amid recent cases of Rochester area residents losing hundreds of thousands of dollars through scams , area agencies and educators are calling attention to common scam tactics and how to protect oneself against them.

Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsch said scams haven't been occurring more often recently, but scammers' tactics are always changing.

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"It's something new all the time, and if we don't stay in front of it, if we don't keep talking to people about it, people are going to keep losing money," Bartsch said.

His department will lead a Senior Scam Presentation sponsored by the Elder Network of Wabasha County at Valley View Assembly of God Church in Lake City at 2 p.m. Sept. 22. He said events like this not only help the public be more informed about scams, but he and his deputies can learn about the latest scam tactics from the public.

"They will bring in information and say, 'Well, this happened to me,' ... and it'll be new scams," Bartsch said. "That's what we're always looking for is information from the people, which we can share with other people."

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Scammers often use fear and the illusion of authority, like pretending to be the IRS or the police, to compel people to act on their requests. They may also pose as family members who are asking for financial help.

"Scammers have gotten very, very good at tricking people, whether it was spoofing phone numbers – there was one going out just last week with someone spoofing the Rochester Police Department's phone number," said Katie Helwig, a technology instructor who contracts with 125 LIVE in Rochester to teach informational courses. "They look like local phone calls."

August concludes with a final scam of $3,600 stolen from a Rochester woman. This adds to the hundreds of thousands of dollars Rochester residents have been scammed out of this month.

Helwig said scammers can also play to a victim's positive emotions, such as winning a free cruise or other prize.

"I've said it multiple times in my classes that you cannot win something that you did not enter," Helwig said. "You're not going to win that fancy cruise if you didn't ever enter a contest for a cruise. And they should never have to pay for winning anything."

Senior citizens are often targeted in scams for several reasons.

"Scammers target older adults just because they are in vulnerable positions," Helwig said. "They're in isolation a lot of times. These people probably have more money than the average 20-year-old does because they have retirement funds."

"They grew up in a trusting environment," Bartsch added, "where they trusted everybody, including their neighbors. Today, we're living in a world where we can't have that type of trust, especially with people that we cannot see."

Bartsch said it is always OK to hang up on a call that doesn't seem right.

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"These people will stay on the line just so they're not being rude," he said. "We tell people that we just can't be so nice with people that we don't know on the phone and just hang up."

When it comes to protecting oneself from scams, Helwig said it is important to keep email accounts secure.

"It's your email account that you want to keep the most secure, because Social Security or banking accounts that use your email to sign up for – if you forget your password, it's a matter of clicking 'Forgot my password' and it sends you an email," Helwig said. "So if the hacker or scammer has gotten into your email, they can potentially reset all of your passwords for all those important accounts."

The 76-year-old Rochester man sent multiple payments to scammers after giving them access to his computer through a downloaded program.

When in doubt, Helwig said if an email or phone call feels suspicious, tell someone.

"If you get something in the mail or someone calls you, sends you a text message, show it to a friend or family member and try to get a second set of eyes on it," she said.

Scams can be reported to the local police or sheriff's department. The Federal Trade Commission also collects scam reports.

Helwig will be leading two more seminars titled "Protecting Yourself From Scams in Today's World" at 125 LIVE on Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. and at noon Oct. 13.

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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