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Increasing ‘ransom’ phone scams hit Saddle Brook, Midland Park, Glen Rock

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT : Police are increasing their warnings about the alarming spread of ransom telephone scams, including recent calls to unsuspecting loved ones in Saddle Brook, Midland Park and Glen Rock the past week — as well as two others, to Ridgewood and Wyckoff, that cost the victims thousands of dollars.

Just yesterday, a Saddle Brook businesswoman got a call on her cellphone from a man claiming her son was involved in a Florida car crash and was being held there until she paid $3,500.

“The caller demanded that the woman give him her bank’s account number to withdraw the funds,” Saddle Brook Police Chief Robert J. Kugler told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

The woman wouldn’t be scammed, however: She kept him on the line while she had a a co-worker call her son’s cell in Florida.

“The son verified he was not involved in any accident and was not being held against his will by anyone,” Kugler said.

The number was traced to Puerto Rico, the same as others received in recent weeks. Atlanta has been another source.

It was the second call reported out of Saddle Brook this month.

Similar calls were reported out of:

  • Midland Park yesterday;
  • Glen Rock on Saturday;
  • Ridgewood two weeks ago, when a 73-year-old village woman was conned out of $9,000 by a caller who said he was her grandson and an accomplice who claimed to be his lawyer;
  • Wyckoff late last month, when a Wyckoff couple in their 70′s lost $15,000 after being tricked into believing their son had been in car crash in New York City and needed bail money.

Earlier this year, a Park Ridge grandmother got conned out of $4,300 by an imposter who convinced her he needed her to wire bail money to Bolivia.

Police in Oradell told CLIFFVIEW PILOT they saw a different twist earlier this month, when an 80-year-old woman told them she was called by an Atlanta company that offered her an 80% Medicare discount — if she only provided the routing number on her checks.

After hanging up, the woman realized what she’d done and called police. The bank was notified before any of her money was touched.

The FBI has joined local police in investigating the cons, through which calls are made from other states.

Despite warnings about the scammers’ methods — including several the past month on CLIFFVIEW PILOT — “they always seem to find another victim,”  Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox said. “They’re good at what they do. They are often professional con artists. They have the ability to pull you in and get you to believe what they are saying.”

In just about all of the cases, a Spanish-speaking caller says a family member is being held against his or her will until a ransom in paid.

The amounts demanded ordinarily are in the low thousands, and the caller insists demands that the cash be wired to Puerto Rico or somewhere else outside the U.S., often from a Western Union location, Bogota Police Chief John C. Burke told CLIFFVIEW PILOT last month.

“They’ll usually say that the victim was on the way to work,” Burke said. “Most of them actually do work, so the family members aren’t about to contact them immediately to confirm or deny what happened.”

In the Wyckoff case, the caller claiming be the victims’ son said his voice sounded different because he’d just had his nose broken in a car crash. He then told them he’d landed in jail and needed bail money. Then he handed the phone to a man he said was his lawyer.

Fox said the ‘lawyer’ “told the couple that their son had been charged with DWI and various other charges and his bail was set at $150,000. He would need 10% of the bail amount to be released.”

He then gave them information for wiring the money to a location in Georgia.

“After the $15,000 was wired, the ‘lawyer’ called the couple again to advise that the money was received, and even pretended to discuss the legal strategy for their son,” Fox said.

They eventually got in touch with their son and discovered they’d been duped.

Unless authorities catch a major break, there’s little to no chance any of the victims will see their money again.

Burke, Kugler and Fox joined their fellow chiefs in warning citizens to “always verify through the actual family member or other additional and trusted sources” of any emergency a stranger tells you about.

They note that scammers often use marketing lists, with names and phone numbers or email addresses, to target victims.

Seniors are the usual targets.

Some scammers will tell their story using specific details, such as the names of the grandchild’s relatives or friends. Victims make the information easy to find by posting it all over Facebook and other social networking sites without using the necessary controls to keep such data private.

Although the lies the scammer tell vary, the chiefs said, they always involve a family member who needs help. The con artists play on emotion, stressing urgency, without giving the victim much time to think, they said.

Scammers typically ask the victim to send funds via a money order or Western Union. Once you’ve done that, it’s gone for good — and, usually, so are they.

They also typically try to prevent any verification. “Don’t tell mom,” they’ll say. Or something that urges the intended victim to act immediately.

The chiefs urge that people:

* ALWAYS check with a family member to find out whether the emergency caller re ally needs help;

* NEVER wire money without independently making sure the story is true; even if it is the truth, that extra time won’t hurt. If it’s not, you’ve saved yourself a huge loss;

* Take the time NOW for a family discussion about this and similar scams. Consider creating a code word or phrase – one only you all would know – in case you get or have to make an emergency call.

“Never, never, never, ever wire money someplace when you get an unsolicited phone call from someone, no matter what the story is,” Fox said. “There is rarely anything that is so urgent that you can’t take the time to look into it further.”

ALSO: The Senior Fraud Education & Protection Program (FedUp) features an instructional video aimed at keeping unwitting victims from being separated from what may be their life savings:

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