Scams (and scammers) that cost NJ residents big bucks in 2016
It pays to be careful — because you could pay a lot more if you're not.
Throughout the year, New Jersey 101.5 brought you stories of scams and alleged scammers that cost New Jersey residents big money. Here's some of the more significant ones:
A family affair: Authorities early this year announced they were looking for anyone who may have been taken in by a mother-son team they allege ran real estate scams throughout South Jersey.
Lisa Smith, 51, was alleged to have fraudulently leased or sold properties in foreclosure throughout South Jersey that she had no legal right to rent, sell or even enter, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office said. Her son, Kristian “Frank” Edmonds, 28, is also accused of participating in the scam, it said.
Authorities say the two used keys from real estate lockboxes or had the properties rekeyed, giving them access to the foreclosed properties. In some cases, they had utilities turned back on and scraped winterization stickers off, the prosecutor's office said.
Police identified more than 20 potential victims in Camden, Gloucester and Burlington counties, authorities said.
Kidnapping? A Saddle Brook man is out $7,200 after he fell for phone calls that told him his father was being held against his will after a car accident in January— and the FBI warned such scams are becoming more common.
The FBI issued an alert at the time for kidnapping scams in the New York area.
“This is a scheme that takes advantage of some of the most vulnerable people in New York City,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos said. “We need the public to be aware of this scam and call us if they have been a victim.”
The taxman cometh ... or not: Two Parsippany women were likely the victims of a phone scam that invoked the IRS to make threats in January.
Pasippany Police said one woman was called by someone who claimed to work for the IRS and threatened arrest if she didn’t pay $7,000 in taxes. After sending $3,000 via Western Union, the maximum allowed by the company, to “Martin Douglas,” the woman became suspicious and contacted police. The money order had already been cashed and could not be recovered.
On the same day, another woman sent $17,500 via several Money Grams because the caller told her she owed back taxes, according to police. Her daughter had reported her missing to Parsippany police after she could not locate her mother and only got vague texts with her and a phone call from a man named “Brian” who said he knew where her mother was located. The $17,500 was also not recoverable.
Taken for a ride: Six Flags Great Adventure issued a warning about an Internet scam promising free tickets earlier this year.
The offer looks authentic — there’s a bar code, terms and conditions and an expiration date. Users are asked to click links and invite friends through social media to claim their tickets.
On a Facebook post by Six Flags post, Markeshia Shaw commented, “Yes it takes you to the page but make you do all these surveys and never approve you finish surveys for tickets … it’s a scam.”
Winners guard their privacy: “You won the lottery! Now, can I just get your Social Security number?”
That’s the general message being sent out as part of an email and phone scam that had NJ Lottery officials concerned this summer. Fortunately, the person who alerted the NJ Lottery to such messages were going around had been savvy enough not to fall for it.
Who's on the phone? Union County authorities warned of several phone scams this summer. In one case, an elderly Maryland resident reported getting a call from a Union County “district attorney” requesting wire transfers totaling $5,000 in order to bail out his grandson on a charge of vehicular homicide. His grandson hadn’t been arrested, first of all, and New Jersey doesn’t have district attorneys.
All Superior Court matters in New Jersey are handled on paper through the mail — never over the phone.
Linden police say a grandmother fell for a similar scam in April, when a "police officer" called asking for $1,500 bail money to get her granddaughter out of jail. The 91-year-old grandmother took out a cash advance with her credit card and wired them money — but when she called a phone number the "officer" gave her, it was out of service.
Bad job: In April, West Amwell Police issued a warning about a scam involving checks being sent purportedly from prospective employers.
In two separate incidents, victims received “pre-employment” checks for more than $3,000, police said. The victims were instructed to deposit the money in their personal accounts and then immediately wire the money to a specific location, but to keep several hundred dollars for themselves, police said.
Their respective banks then informed the two residents that the checks were fake and their accounts were overdrawn, police said.
Knock, knock: Meteorologist Dan Zarrow's healthy skepticism kept him from being taken in by an apparent traveling con artist in August. Someone starting ringing his doorbell — he opened the door to find a scraggly, middle-aged man. The man claimed to be doing some work at Dan's neighbor’s house, and happened to notice a “dent” in Dan's wife’s car as it sat in the driveway. Since that was his “business,” he offered to fix it.
It didn't smell right to Dan. Yes, there was a minor problem with his wife's bumper, but it wasn't dented — and he didn't see any way someone could see it from the neighbor's house. "Alarm bells are going off," Dan wrote.
He got in touch with police.
"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," Dan wrote. "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!"
The naked truth: Back in September, a New Jersey man started chatting with what he thought was a 19-year-old girl online — and she asked him to send along some naked pictures. Next thing he knew, he was being contacted by someone claiming to be the girl's father, saying she was really 14 and demanding money to keep his mouth shut.
"The would-be victim in question was not that easily rattled. He smelled a scam and contacted authorities himself," Jeff Deminski wrote at the time. But a few weeks earlier, another victim fell victim to the same scam, and wound up out $1,000.
"While it is not a crime for an adult to send nude pics of themselves to another adult willing to receive them, it isn’t bright if you have never even met the person. Have these guys never heard of MTV’s 'Catfish?' New Jersey seems to be the land of scams and if you’re on dating sites you’d better be aware of this new one," Jeff wrote.
Looking for love: Patrick Giblin, 52, formerly of Ventnor, was charged with one count of wire fraud in September after allegedly duping several women into sending him money.
He met the women through a telephone dating service, and convinced them they were starting relationships, authorities say. He posted messages falsely claiming he was moving to victims’ locations, then convinced women to wire him money through services such as Western Union and Moneygram, claiming he needed the funds for expenses such as car repairs, bills and moving costs, authorities say.
The U.S. attorney says at least eight women in five different states and Canada lost a total of over $7,000 to Giblin and police are continuing to investigate.
The FBI also warned this summer of similar scams — by people who say they've run into emergencies after earning the trust of innocents in online "relationships."
That's not the ticket: Police in Franklin borough said in October a woman had been scamming people for thousands of dollars worth of fake NFL tickets. They said Alicia Pallozzi took $1,600 in cash for tickets from a resident in exchange for tickets to an event at MetLife Stadium, but never came through with the tickets that she had claimed were available through her husband’s employer, the Institute of Culinary Education.
Police said that her husband was not employed by the Institute and if he were, an employee would not have the authority to sell their tickets.
Your grandson's fine: In November, a South Jersey couple fell victim to the “grandparent scam.” Mantua Police said the couple got a call from someone who identified themselves as an Arizona lawyer seeking $3,000, to be paid in gift cards, to bail out their 16-year-old grandson. The grandson, of course, was nowhere near Arizona — but the couple still made the payment.
The story prompted Jeff Deminski reminds New Jerseyans: If a scammer tries to scam you, you can scam the scammer right back.
“Please let any elderly people in your life know that bail will NEVER be accepted in the form of gift cards,” warned police, who said the couple sent $2,000 worth of Best Buy gift cards as instructed.
In November, two New Jersey residents were arrested for allegedly pulling the same sort of scam on people nationwide. Their ring cheated seniors out of between $1,000 and $5,500, authorities say.
Not in the cards: PSE&G warned us in November the company's been getting lots of reports of scammers. One common trick — a customer might get a call from someone claiming to be from the utility, threatening a cut off unless immediate payment is made with a prepaid card.
“We do not want to cut service off to any customer,” spokeswoman Brooke Houston says says. And the company certainly won't ask you to pay with a prepaid card.
In some cases, phony utility workers even show up in person, PSE&G also warned in May.
“The only way to protect against these scams is for customers to be cautious when contacted by someone seeking access to their home or demanding immediate payment. Even one customer being cheated is one too many,” Greg Dunlap, vice president of Customer Operations for PSE&G, said said.
Check that check: In December, we told you about a Delaware couple who'd been hired to help raise money for local charities in Hunterdon County. But after the couple presented an $18,000 check to Diamond Nation, the amatuer sporting complex that hired them, the check bounced — and the couple disappeared. Diamond Nation stepped up, though, and provided the money to the charities out of its own pocket.
Most wanted: A con man once featured on "America's Most Wanted" was caught in Palisades Park in February.
Palisades Park Police said Anthony Quick was arrested after convincing an 87-year-old that a car door lock was broken and he could fix it. Quick allegedly also conned a 90-year-old man in Florida out of $8,500 in 2006, according to America's Most Wanted. In several cases he would claim to be an auto mechanic and use a device to disable cars and then would "fix" the car for a fee, it said.
No free lunch: Wegmans Food Markets Inc., the popular grocery chain with several locations in New Jersey, warned consumers earlier this year not to fall for a scam involving a fake Facebook post involving the promise of hundreds of dollars in grocery coupons.
“The Facebook post shows the image of a Wegmans storefront with a false claim that the company is giving away a free $200 grocery coupon.This giveaway is neither affiliated with nor supported by Wegmans,” the company said in a press release.
What should you do if you suspect a scam?
Authorities advise one should never send money, give personal or financial information, click a link or open an attachment without verifying the information presented independently.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of marketplace abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
— With reports by Dan Alexander, Sergio Bichao, Toniann Antonelli and Louis C. Hochman