MINNEAPOLIS -- Scam artists are targeting Twin Cities families with false reports that relatives have been injured in an accident and taken hostage.
In many of the cases the victims have been instructed to wire $1,000 to the mystery callers, so that a family member can be freed and receive medical treatment.
"I was at work Friday afternoon and received a call on my work cell phone," Beth Ganfield of Prior Lake told KARE.
"He said a member of my family had been in an accident."
She immediately thought of her son Tim, a Prior Lake High School senior, who had planned to drive to Apple Valley that afternoon, and asked if the mystery caller was talking about Tim.
The man on the other end of the line used that new piece of information, her son's name, to say that Tim had crashed into the caller's brother, who he described as a violent gang member wanted by the FBI.
"He said, 'Your son needs help, he needs to get to the hospital. We won't do this until we get $1,000 from you."
The caller told her to go the nearest Walmart to wire the cash using a Money Gram.
Beth was too shaken up to drive, and couldn't call anyone because the caller also demanded that she remain on the phone line until the money transfer was completed.
"He said, 'Mam you can't tell anybody. You don't understand. You'll thank me in the end, after we get this money, then your son can go to a hospital'."
A co-worker who overheard the call offered to drive Beth to the Shakopee Walmart. On the way to the store the co-worker quietly called Beth's husband Andrew.
Because the friend was speaking in a whisper, Andrew Ganfield thought she was telling him to go to the Apple Valley Walmart. He started driving in that direction, but lost the call.
Eventually he reconnected with Beth's co-worker, who redirected him to the Shakopee Walmart. As he headed that direction he called 9-1-1, who notified the Shakopee police.
"The 9-1-1 dispatcher told me it could be a scam, because a similar scam has been going around lately in Dakota County."
Andrew Ganfield was also able to confirm that his son Tim had not been in a crash, and was safely at home. He also checked with his other son, A.J., and confirmed he was at work and doing fine.
In the meantime Beth was at Walmart trying to stall the man demanding the ransom. Her co-worker was slowly filling out the Money Gram paperwork, but intentionally making spelling errors in hopes of buying more time.
When Andrew Ganfield arrived at Wal-mart he grabbed the phone out of Beth's hands, and started chewing out the scammer.
"It was language that's not appropriate for television," Andrew Ganfield remarked.
He hung up on the scam artist, who then called right back and leveled more threats.
"He said, 'I'm going to shotgun you and your family. You're going to watch them all die!' And I said, 'Bring it'!"
He hung up again, and when the scammer called a third time a Shakopee Police officer answered it. That was the shortest of all the conversations.
The caller ID listed Lawrence, Massachusetts as the originating location. But tracing the number will be difficult.
"It's very difficult with these scams when they get the pre-paid phones that are hard to trace," Shakopee Police Sergeant Jay Arras told KARE.
He said this type of fraud depends on keeping the victim in panic mode, and not giving them any opportunity to independently verify that it's a lie.
"These scam artists are simply preying on these people's vulnerabilities and getting them to react as fast as possible."
It's something Beth Ganfield can relate to after her ordeal on Friday.
"I couldn't verify anything. I couldn't call. I couldn't talk to anybody else. We were trying to stall him!"
Beth said the caller said her son couldn't talk to her because he was at a different location.
She said a law enforcement friend recommended that the family select a password that nobody else would know, and use that in similar situations.
Earlier the same week a Twin Cities man called into the Dave Ryan Show on KDWB-FM radio to tell a very similar story.
The scammer said the man's wife had rear-ended a dangerous gang member, and that she and their children were being held hostage.
The caller demanded $1,000, but agreed to accept $600 once he heard the victim only had $600 in his checking account.
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