Minnesota Commerce Department warns against nationwide robocall scheme

Last year, the Star Tribune reported that Minnesotans receive an average of eight “machine-made” calls per month — that is about 44.888 million unwanted calls across the state.

Aided by advances in technology that target smartphones, scammers are utilizing auto-dialers to reach thousands of phones every minute for an incredibly low cost, causing a nation-wide influx of robocalls. Often, these electronically recorded automated messages legally advertise local campaigns, charities and sales; however, if you have not given the caller permission to contact you, the call is illegal and likely a scam.

Deb Knooihuizen, an investigator at the Minnesota Department of Commerce who helps Minnesotans avoid fraud, said that even she has received an influx of robocalls. 

“I recently received three robocalls over the span of two days from numbers I did not recognize,” said Stillwater resident Knooihuizen. “Each pre-recorded message warned me of my Social Security being compromised and demanded urgent action.”

Phone scammers often use fear tactics to extract money and personal information from victims. A robocall may exploit fears by threatening to file a lawsuit against you or threatening to shut off your utilities. One of the most popular prerecorded messages comes from imposter federal tax representatives who claim to be from the I.R.S.; however, the FTC has reported a new trend — fraudulent calls from Social Security Administration imposters.

“I knew immediately that I was being targeted for a scam. If the automated voice on the other end wasn’t a give-away, it was the incredibly false sense of urgency conveyed in the message that made me question the legitimacy of the call,” said Knooihuizen. “Additionally, the calls came from outstate numbers that I did not recognize, and the numbers that I was given to call to resolve the issue were not local.”

“The Department of Commerce will continue to take legal action against robocall scams, but Minnesotans are our best partner in cracking down on these crimes,” said Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley. “I urge consumers to be wary of robocalls. Do not fall victim to a scam. If you think you have been targeted, contact the Department of Commerce.”

The Minnesota Department of Commerce urges consumers to take precautions against potential robocall scams.

• If you receive a robocall, hang up the phone. Do not respond to directions leading you to speak to a live operator. If you respond by pressing any number, it will likely lead to more robocalls.

• The Do Not Call Registry prohibits most callers from contacting registered consumers over the phone, however, while legitimate companies usually honor the registry, scammers tend to disregard it.

• The Federal Trade Commission maintains the Do Not Call Registry. You may register your home and cell phone numbers by contacting the FTC by email at www.donotcall.gov or by phone at 888-382-1222.

 

—If you have questions or if you believe you may have been the victim of a scam or fraud, you are encouraged to contact the Commerce Department’s Consumer Services Center by email at consumer.protection@state.mn.us or by phone at 651-539-1600 or 800-657-3602 (Greater Minnesota).

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