In the local bakeries, bread rolls, breads, pretzels and all sorts of sweet things are still packed, but one thing is definitely not: “I can’t put wrong police officers in my bag”. At least that is the name of the campaign with which the Munich and Landsberg Bakers’ Guild, the Munich Security Forum Association and the Police Presidium want to jointly warn against the organized call center fraud, to which older people in particular fall victim.
At the start of the campaign on Friday, Guild Headmaster Heinrich Traublinger said: “With the baker’s bags we create a visual tool relatively easily.” The chairwoman of the security forum, Kristina Frank, also spoke of “reaching a lot of people in a simple way”. On the front and back of the paper bags, tips on how to behave from the police are printed on how to recognize fraudulent calls and defend yourself against them: It’s best to just hang up! “Healthy distrust is not rudeness!” Is written in bold on the bag.
There are many different scams that criminal gangs use to deprive unsuspecting people of their money on the phone: They pretend to be police officers, grandsons in need, Microsoft employees – or they promise lottery winnings. The callers, who mostly operate from regular call centers, try to use a pretext to persuade their victims to hand over money and valuables to someone who collects them. He takes the booty as quickly as possible to the gang chiefs who are mostly based abroad. But, so the note on the bag: “The police will NEVER collect money or valuables from you.”
You can’t repeat that often enough, the trick with the wrong police officers has been in business for a long time, and the trend is still increasing, as Detective Director Erwin Frankl says, the head of the crime-fighting department. The Munich Presidium 2020 registered 6113 such offenses in its area of responsibility; the 51 completed acts resulted in damage totaling 4.26 million euros. However, Frankl emphasized that the fight against the gangs with the Phenomena working group set up specifically for this purpose was showing results: 33 accomplices of the false police officers were arrested this year – more than twice as many as the year before.
The bag campaign is now a further measure to educate especially older people about the methods of tricksters. “Eighty percent of the victims are over 80 years old,” says Karl Schneid, deputy head of the Commissariat for Victim Protection and Prevention. This age group can hardly be reached via the Internet and digital communication channels; many seniors have no access to them or do not use these media. “You have to go back to the old ways,” says Schneid.
“Sensitize your relatives or friends with this bag!”
An almost ideal path opened up at the beginning of the year when it came to informing people over the age of 80 about the corona vaccination. In a joint campaign with the City of Munich and the Bavarian Ministry of Health, a brochure with warnings from the police was enclosed with all vaccination invitations. This reached exactly the desired target group. In total, the mail went to 83,000 senior citizens in the city and 25,000 in the district.
Afterwards, of course, the commissariat distributed its information material via the vaccination centers, but there is no overview of whether it will actually arrive in the announced age group, Schneid admits. That will probably also be the case with the baker’s bags, basically anyone can get their hands on them. Master baker Traublinger therefore appeals to younger customers: “Help us and sensitize your relatives or friends with this bag!”
16 bakeries in Munich and Landsberg have so far participated in the campaign, and a total of 100,000 of the special baker’s bags are to be handed out in 125 branches this year. When it comes to crime prevention, “we always need innovative ideas to start the prayer wheel all over again,” says Karl Schneid: “If you just keep repeating the same thing, soon no one will listen anymore.” In any case, he believes that one shouldn’t let up, “neither do the perpetrators.”
It is true that the Turkish police, in cooperation with the Munich investigators, dug up a call center gang in Izmir at the end of 2020 that specialized in fraud as false police officers. But operations were only temporarily shut down. “Munich is now being worked on by other groups,” knows Schneid, “and they are busier than ever.” The officials of the Working Group Phenomena have already registered up to 600 calls in the city in one day. Erwin Frankl promised that the police would continue to “look for similar creative ways and do everything in their power to continue to warn of this perfidious scam,” so that Munich seniors do not get caught by the cleverly acting fraudsters.