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DV Pilot police & fire

Fair Lawn ransom note phone hoax part of widespread scam

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

BE ALERT: The terrified man who prompted a Fair Lawn bank teller to trip a holdup alarm — bringing an army of tactical police officers who closed off area streets — was one of a growing number of victims of phone scammers first given widespread local attention last year. As CLIFFVIEW PILOT first reported last fall, the scam is hitting Bergen County residents hard.

In one case, 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.

“I feel terrible for this couple,” Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox said. “This is a lot of money.”

Be sure to warn loved ones and friends about phone scammers

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 on CLIFFVIEW PILOT beginning last summer — “they always seem to find another victim,” Fox said.

The Wyckoff couple was conned by a caller who claimed to be their son and explained that his voice sounded different because he’d just had his nose broken in the accident.

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.” He told them his bail was set at $150,000, and that 10% of the amount would get him 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 told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

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 the couple will see any of that money again. Nor will any other victims ripped off by phone scammers.

“They’re good at what they do. They are often professional con artists,” Fox said. “They have the ability to pull you in and get you to believe what they are saying.

It’s happened several times in Bogota, too.

Most times, the caller, who speaks either in Spanish or with a Spanish accent, claims he was involved in a car accident with the victim in or around New York City, Police Chief John C. Burke told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Because the victim couldn’t afford to pay for the damage, the caller says, he’s “holding the person captive, with weapons, until the family member can go to the bank, withdraw money and head to the nearest Western Union,” Burke said.

The amounts ordinarily are in the low thousands, and the purported kidnapper demands that the cash be wired to Puerto Rico or somewhere else outside the U.S, the chief said.

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

The Fair Lawn incident involved one of at least three similar calls made to borough residents yesterday, police said.

The alarm was tripped after the man “passed several notes” to a teller about a hostage/ransom demand and suggesting he possibly was being watched, Police Sgt. Richard Schultz said.

A strange caller had told the man he had to come up with $800 to free his brother-in-law, the sergeant said. He remained on the man’s cellphone with him during the transaction, Schultz added.

When security at the Chase branch on Saddle River Road couldn’t contact the teller who triggered the alarm, officers from Fair Lawn, Glen Rock, Ridgewood, Paramus, Bergen County Police, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office and New Jersey State Police quickly moved in.

“The Fair Lawn resident never made any threats toward the teller or bank and was visibly scared throughout the whole ordeal until officers were able to establish the safe well[-]being of his brother-in-law,” Schultz said. He “was later released from custody, as it appears that he was a victim of a scam.”

You can prevent yourself or someone you love from a similar fate.

Take note:

  • Seniors are the usual targets.
  • The lies the scammer tell vary, but 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 then ask the victims to wire the money, usually via Western Union.

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

“If you’re unsure whether something like this is true or not, contact your local police department immediately,” added Burke of Bogota. “Also try calling your relative.

“Whatever you do, don’t give your money away. We don’t want to see anybody get ripped off.”

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