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‘Son in trouble’ phone scam costs Wyckoff couple $15,000

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A widening scam that a police chief warned readers about on CLIFFVIEW PILOT unfortunately worked: 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.”

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 one a week ago today on CLIFFVIEW PILOT — “they always seem to find another victim,” Fox said. “They’re good at what they do. They are often professional con artists. They have the ability to pull you in and get you to believe what they are saying.

The victims were conned by a caller who claimed to be their son and said his voice sounded different because he’d just had his nose broken in a car crash.

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 and his bail was set at $150,000. He would need 10% of the bail amount to be 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 said.

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 victims will see any of that money again.

“We’ve gotten a couple of calls and had residents come to headquarters saying they’ve gotten these calls lately,” Bogota Police Chief John C. Burke told CLIFFVIEW PILOT last week.

The caller, who speaks either in Spanish or with a Spanish accident, claims he was involved in a car accident with the victim in or around New York City, the chief said.

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.”

You can prevent yourself or someone you love from becoming a victim. 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,” Fox said. “There is rarely anything that is so urgent that you can’t take the time to look into it further.”

Fox, Burke and their colleagues in law enforcement all agree: The best response is to call your local police department first. Also check with other family members.

Meanwhile, let those you know and love know that these scams happen — a lot — and that, as Fox says, “the person on the other end of the phone is good at what they are doing to you.”

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