Con man swindles students

by Megan Boldt

Minneapolis police suspect at least one scam artist has targeted University students for the past three months in an elaborate scheme to swindle hundreds of dollars in cash from them.
The con artist has convinced at least two University students to drive him around the city in a futile mission to cash a personal check. In the meantime, the man has asked the students to fork over cash, promising to pay it back promptly, according to police reports.
Police said the con man cheated a 24-year-old University student out of $600 dollars Oct. 4 after asking the student for a ride outside of Sanford Hall.
“He came up to my car and told me his car broke down and he needed a ride to cash a check so he could get his car towed,” said the fourth-year English major, who preferred to remain unnamed.
The student said he wanted to be a good Samaritan and decided to help the man. Instead, he ended up driving the con artist to several area banks, stores and households for more than four hours.
All told, the student withdrew $200 from three separate cash machines for the suspect before the con artist took off for good at one of the evening’s numerous pit stops.
“Once I gave him money, I didn’t want to stop for fear I wouldn’t get the rest of it back,” he said.
After the student dropped off the con artist with the intention of cashing the check, the suspect disappeared and never returned the student’s cash.
He reported the incident to police the next day. Authorities suspect others have similar stories but are too ashamed to admit they have been swindled.
“There is no doubt he has more victims,” said Minneapolis Police Lt. Dana Smyser, who works in the forgery and fraud unit. “Some might feel too embarrassed to report it.”
He said the con artist used the same story with two other individuals who have reported similar incidents to police.
Another University student who encountered the suspect reported being approached by the con man Sept. 23 on Cedar Avenue near the West Bank. According to police reports, the suspect defrauded the student out of $400.
The student could not be reached for comment.
Smyser said Hennepin County prosecutors charged the con artist with theft by swindle over the summer. However, there was not enough evidence to convict him.
“Minneapolis police have arrested him several times on many different charges,” Smyser said.
No arrests have been made in the recent cases, however. Smyser said he is checking with other police departments to determine whether the con artist has been charged with other criminal offenses.
Smyser said students need to proceed with caution when approached by individuals in need of quick cash.
“Regardless of how nice you want to be, this is not small-town America,” he said. “You can’t trust anyone off the street.”
He said the Warehouse District is another area where individuals have been victimized by scam artists.
“Strangers will come up to people saying they need money because they ran out of gas,” Smyser said. “Another story is their kid ran out of asthma medicine.”
He said most of the con artists barrage their victims with demands and requests for favors without giving the individuals a chance to question their stories.

Megan Boldt covers police and welcomes comments at [email protected]. She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3224.