Beware! How a traveling con artist tried to scam Dan Zarrow
Our own Meteorologist Dan Zarrow almost became a victim of a unsettling scheme from a surprising source.
At about 5 p.m. Tuesday, someone starting ringing our doorbell and pounding on our front door. I opened the door to find a scraggly, middle-aged man. He claimed to be doing some work at my neighbor's house, and happened to notice a "dent" in my wife's car as it sat in the driveway. Since that was his "business," he offered to fix it for us.
Time out. There is indeed a minor problem with my wife's bumper — one of the supports is cracked, and the part of the bumper near the headlight is hanging down (less than an inch). It is certainly not "dented" and it will be to be an easy fix, covered by warranty, once we find time to take it to a dealership.
Furthermore, it is literally impossible that he saw the car from the neighbor's house. There's a thick patch of trees on that side of the driveway. Alarm bells are going off.
After I gave a stern "no" answer, he and his companion left quickly.
Something didn't smell right about the situation. Even though no apparent crime was committed, I called the police and provided a description of the man and the vehicle. My impression was from that from my description, they immediately suspected what was going on.
The police found the car and stopped them down the road. (It probably helps that we live less than a half-mile from the police station.) An officer later stopped by the house to follow-up, and said they suspected the man was involved in "gypsy" activity.
(I know there's a lot of racial implications loaded into that term, but that's how he described it, and I get what he was trying to say — traveling thieves who prey on the locals with their scams.)
I learned that this could have been an attempt of a common scam, in which someone offers to repair part of your car or house for cash, but ultimately does a poor or incomplete job. The second and more alarming possibility is that this was a deception scam — while I was outside tending to the car, a co-conspirator would sneak in the front door or back door and steal whatever they could grab!
Luckily, I immediately noticed something wasn't right with the situation. In addition, my wife was home and the dog was going nuts barking and growling. So I thankfully did not become a victim. But wow, it was a scary and weird afternoon. We couldn't help but feel violated that they marched right onto our property and tried to scam us so blatantly.
Common sense goes a long way. Keep your doors locked during the day, and beware of strangers who ring your doorbell. If you encounter a similar situation, even if you're unsure, I recommend you call your local police (non-emergency number) and report it.
Bravo to Clark Police for responding so quickly and following up!
Dan Zarrow is Acting Chief Scam Thwarter and Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. When he's not protecting his home and family, he's posting your latest New Jersey forecast and realtime weather updates on Facebook and Twitter.
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