PEQUOT LAKES, Minn. — Call it revenge by Snooki.
In an effort to seek vengeance on behalf of a scam victim, the Pequot Lakes Police Department replaced $3,000 worth of iPads in an intercepted package with random items of the same approximate weight. This included — among bar coasters reminding patrons not to drink and drive, a police badge, part of a broom and a stuffed cartoon inmate in jail stripes — a copy of the 2011 book “A Shore Thing,” written by Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of reality show “Jersey Shore” fame.
“It was just an opportunity for folks that are constantly being scammed to get a little revenge back,” Police Chief Eric Klang said Tuesday. “We did it for them.”
Klang said his department, about 20 miles north of Brainerd, receives phone calls nearly every day from people who’ve experienced a scam of some kind, and this particular type is especially difficult to trace. A form of “reshipping fraud,” criminals send merchandise purchased with stolen information to the wrong location. Then, they’ll contact that location claiming it was a mistake and provide a shipping label to another location, eventually acquiring the stolen goods, according to Klang.
“It’s all to get law enforcement confused,” Klang said. “It makes it really complicated to track these goofballs down.”
In this particular instance, a victim — who’d provided financial information through a phishing email exchange — contacted police about the iPads and reported the shipping address, which happened to belong to a hotel. The hotel in turn informed police Tuesday the package arrived, along with the shipping label.
That’s where Snooki came in. In a post on its Facebook page, the department shared a photograph of the collection of items that were definitely not iPads, sent on their way to whoever waited on the other end.
“The package was then sent on it's way in hopes that the fraudsters will contact the PLPD when they receive the package with items other than what they purchased using a stolen identity,” the post stated.
The likelihood of that outcome is pretty small, of course, but Klang said the humorous post was intended to remind people to be very careful with their personal information. He said despite ongoing efforts to inform the public about scams and the importance of practicing caution with financial information, he regularly encounters people who’ve been duped.
“If things are too good to be true, it’s not real, it’s not true,” Klang said. “Every single day we get people calling up and saying they’ve been ripped off. You just really gotta be on the ball.”
And the question on everyone’s minds: Where did that instant classic of Snooki’s come from?
“Believe it or not, that book came from another case that they did the same scam through Target, and that was the book that they had shipped to this house,” Klang said. “... We tried to return the stuff to Target, and they said, ‘No, we don’t want it.’”
According to the U.S. Postal Service, reshipping fraud is often conducted by people operating in Eastern European countries and Nigeria. It typically involves bogus job offers, fraudulent credit card transactions and reshipping the illegally purchased goods.
“The scam begins when criminals buy high-dollar merchandise -- such as computers, cameras, and other electronics -- via the Internet using stolen credit cards,” USPS states on its website. “They have the merchandise shipped to addresses in the United States of paid ‘reshippers’ (who may be unaware they are handling stolen goods). The reshippers repackage the merchandise and mail it to locations in Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, and Germany. Victimized businesses include such well-known companies as Amazon, eBay, and other Internet auction sites.”
Although in the Pequot Lakes case, the shipment was made to a business rather than a person who thought they were doing a job, the latter seems to be a growing form of reshipping fraud, the postal service notes.
U.S. postal inspectors offer these tips:
Don’t give out personal information to an unfamiliar person or company.
Be suspicious of any offer that doesn’t pay a regular salary or involves working for an overseas company.
Check the company with the Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau or Minnesota attorney general’s office.