A phone scam in which a caller pretended to be the Ocean County Sheriff targeted a 77-year-old cancer patient — ultimately costing him $18,000 in savings, according to the victim's family.

The Ocean County Sheriff’s Office — the real one — told New Jersey 101.5 that the phony call on Tuesday, July 23, involved a person posing as a social security agent, who told the victim that his personal identity had been compromised and that he would need to withdraw his money from the bank, so as not to lose it.

The caller than mentioned Sheriff Michael Mastronardy by name and gave the victim a phone number with a "732" area code to call. A second person pretended to be the sheriff while "verifying" the scam details, John James, the victim's son, told New Jersey 101.5.

The callers threatened the victim with of arrest, before providing instructions to withdraw large amounts of cash and then buy gift cards at local retail box stores, such as Walmart, Target and Best Buy, James and the sheriff's office both said.

James said his father, a veteran of the Air Force Reserves, was robbed by the phone scammers while he was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy for stage four colon cancer.

Target receipt, phone scam (courtesy John James)
Target receipt, phone scam (courtesy John James)

In this case, the victim told police he took his savings and bought 10 $1,000 gift cards at one Target store, and then $5,000 worth of cards at a second Target store, according to Mastronardy.

Other cards also were purchased from other stores, totaling another $3,000, James said.

At one, final Walmart store the victim visited, a cashier did decline to issue a $1,000 gift card, James said.

So, his dad kept a remaining $2,000 in his pocket and went home to deliver the gift card numbers and pin numbers for those he did purchase to the scammers via phone, James said.

It wasn't until the victim called James that evening that the scam came into view, but by then, the money was gone.

"After speaking to the real sheriff and FBI, there is little to no chance of getting justice or retribution," James said, "My father worked his whole life and his savings was stolen from him in one day. My father feels violated, victimized and most of all embarrassed."

James said the scammers seemed to have "done their research" by knowing details about the local Sheriff and certain store locations, and by providing a number with a traditionally local area code.

He said knowing how badly his dad felt upon learning he'd been scammed, he wonders how many other people might be quiet victims who never report what's happened to them.

James also questioned why such retail stores would allow such large transactions, without even a manager's involvement.

He said a call to Toms River police just "up the road" from at least one of the store locations his father visited could have meant a different outcome in this case.

A GoFundMe campaign that's been setup by James has a goal of recouping the victim's lost funds. As of late Thursday, more than $2,300 was raised.

It's the latest in a growing number of phone scams in NJ that involve impersonating actual law enforcement agencies. Also in July, a "spoofing" call showed up on a woman's caller ID as Long Branch Police Department, as a man claimed to be an officer while touting a similar phony ID theft story.

In that case, the scam was unsuccessful, as the woman hung up and called the real police.

State Police warned residents in February of fraudulent phone calls also requesting Social Security numbers. In that scam, a caller posed as a State Trooper and the incoming call comes up as the legitimate phone number, 609-452-2601, for the New Jersey State Police Transportation Safety Bureau office, police said.

Calls that appeared to be coming from the Monmouth County Sheriff's Office were reported in January, pressuring victims to pay made-up fines immediately through a pre-paid debit card over the phone in order to avoid an arrest.

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