Con Artists Now Posing As Cops To Scare You Into Paying Out Large Sums

FREEHOLD – Scammers have turned up the heat with their outrageous claims to frighten and intimidate unsuspecting citizens in an all-out effort to steal your cash, warns Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.

Last month, an elderly Monmouth County resident was tricked out of approximately $32,000 after scammers convinced her to pay taxes in advance of collecting $17 million.  This was for winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.  In recent months there have been a growing number of reports of scams involving phony Internal Revenue Service refunds, lottery winnings and the popular “grandparents” scam that has seen senior citizens lose their entire life savings, as these individuals prey on their emotions and attachments to their grandchildren by concocting outrageous stories involving phony police arrests, accidents and other embarrassing events.

“Unfortunately, we continue to see these scams take new twists and turns into the bizarre world of lies and deceits. No legitimate business or government agency is going to demand anyone make a payment over the phone using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, virtual currency, or any other unusual form of payment. Furthermore, no legitimate business or government agency is going to show up on your doorstep demanding payment immediately with cash or prepaid debit cards. It is just not going to happen, and if it does you are being scammed.” Prosecutor Gramiccioni said.

A recent scam started with a call to a senior citizen couple from a supposed out-of-state police department, informing the elderly couple that their grandchild was in a motor vehicle accident, while in possession of marijuana in her car, and was under arrest. Bail had been set at $5,000 and the bail would need to be paid in the form of $5,000 of gift cards from a specific chain retail store.  The grandparents were advised that they were under a gag order and could not discuss the case with anyone.  The grandparents purchased the gift cards, contacted the “police officer” and provided him with the gift card numbers.  The next day the “police officer” contacted the grandparents to advise them the gift card numbers did not work and they should purchase another $5,000 worth of gift cards.  The grandparents complied with the request made by the “police officer,” purchased the gift cards and provided him with the card numbers.  The grandparents then received a call from the “police officer” who advised them they owed an additional $20,000.

“A police department will not ask for payment in the form of gift cards. Police departments will issue complaints and provide those complaints to a court officer for processing and handling. Simply stated, police officers do not make demands for payments,” Prosecutor Gramiccioni said.

Scammers who approach you with a phone call can pose as anyone, and many times they use “spoofing” as a way to convince you they are legitimate. “Spoofing” is when a caller deliberately fakes the information that displays on your caller ID to disguise their identity. For years, law enforcement agencies have fielded reports about phone scammers targeting local residents with false claims of people owing tax money to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”), winning multi-million dollar lottery prizes and a laundry list of big money scams. The calls are aggressive and employ high-pressure tactics that include threats to send people to jail if the money doesn’t get paid immediately or too-good-to-be-true promises of huge cash payouts.

“The IRS does not call anyone out of the blue trying to collect back taxes and the lottery commission doesn’t call to say you won. These con artists are simply extorting money by means of fear, lies and intimidation. Their only objective is conning you into sending them money. Don’t fall for it,” Prosecutor Gramiccioni explained.

“Scammers reel you in with big promises of big money winnings and set you up for smaller money payouts that continue to grow as they iron out the details of your big winnings. Do not give them any of your hard-earned money” Prosecutor Gramiccioni warned.

Other scams include calls from phony utility company employees using the same basic line of fear and intimidations advising you are past due on a bill and facing the disruption of your electric, water, cable, telephone, or any other service they can prey on your fear of losing that service. That is quickly followed by an opportunity to “pay” your bill within a brief period of time to avoid any embarrassment, disruptions or work stoppages.

“It is important to note that the callers all sound real. They are often well-spoken, polite. They all sound very professional. They have all your account information, personal information, everything they need to sound and feel legitimate, but they are not – they are scammers,” Prosecutor Gramiccioni said.

Homeowners and senior citizens are not the only targets of these scammers. There have businesses targeted and scammed using the same fear and intimidation tactics. Recently, a local business received a phone call from a scammer posing as a representative of the power company. The impostor advised the business owner that his account was past due. He demanded immediate payment.  If the business owner did not provide immediate payment, his power would be turned off.  After a brief discussion the scammer on the phone agreed to give the business owner 30 minutes to acquire prepaid debit cards in the amount owed. The caller reiterated the threat to turn off the power in 30 minutes if that payment was not promptly made.

“It bears repeating over and over again; legitimate businesses and government agencies or utilities don’t take prepaid debit cards for payment on demand over the phone or at your front door. No legitimate business or government agency is going to show up on your doorstep demanding immediate payment with cash or prepaid debit cards. It is just not going to happen, and if it does you are being scammed.” Prosecutor Gramiccioni reiterated.

“The best way to avoid falling victim to spoofing scams is to not answer calls from unknown phone numbers. Do not give out any personal information to anyone over the phone. Any legitimate business or government agency already has that information.” Prosecutor Gramiccioni explained. “And do not call back numbers that are left in voicemail. If you get a call from a utility company find your bill and call the number on the document. The same goes for credit card companies, government agencies, or lotteries.”

Anyone who suspects they have received a scam call should immediately contact their local police department.

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