WOODBURY, Minn. - Scammers have all sorts of targets, from travelers to the elderly, when it comes to phishing schemes.
Now in Woodbury, police believe they have targeted at-home day care providers.
“This is definitely a very aggressive and threatening scam,” says Jessica Glass.
She and her mother, Rose Swenson, have run an at-home day care for nearly four years. Last week, they received a one-page, detailed letter from an unidentified person saying their daughter, who attends the daycare, had recently come home with signs of sexual abuse.
It describes “marks on her skin” and signs that “indicate she was sexually abused while in your care.” The letter goes on demanding a $2,500 payment in Bitcoin and saying “buying our silence will be simple,” otherwise photos of the girl and evidence of the assault will be taken to the police.
The letter ends with, “If we receive payment before July 19th, the whole incident goes away ... However, if payment isn't received, we'll take the photos to the police department and you can consider your career as a childcare provider over.”
Both Glass and Swenson say they were shocked when they opened the letter.
“You are just like, 'Who would say this? Who is sending this?'" Swenson says. "It makes you think for a second, then you say wait a minute, there is no chance this happened. It didn’t take long before we called police.”
Michelle Okada, a spokeswoman with the city of Woodbury, confirmed that 27 at-home day care providers in the city received the exact same letter between July 15 and 18, trying to extort money from the provider and claiming a sexual assault had happened while the child was in their care.
Okada called the scam letters “rare and widespread.” She did not believe any of the day care facilities had fallen victim and sent any money, and she said that each of the 27 contacted police.
“It makes you angry that someone would target such a sensitive topic,” Glass says. “Everyone wants to know their kids are safe and they are here, but this is an awful thing to do.”
The city believes the anonymous sender was able to obtain a public list of at home day care providers and send letters using a bogus return address which in the letter stated “it's fake” and there was “no need to visit use at the return address.”