New twist in old scam brings victims face-to-face with crooks


New twist in old scam brings victims face-to-face with crooks

This scam will probably sound familiar to you: A person — usually elderly — gets a phone call announcing a grandchild is in jail or was in an accident or is in some other kind of pickle. The kid needs cash fast.

That’s old news. I’ve written about this a lot.

But here’s a frightening new twist on this standard swindle that you ought to know about. So pay attention, especially if you are a concerned relative, a bank teller or, especially, a New York City doorman.

Under the time-honored scenario, a crook commands his target to go to the nearest electronics outlet or department store and buy gift cards, usually for around $10,000. Then, he has the victim read off the serial numbers on the card over the phone.

No muss, no fuss, no danger.

The new variation is far more frightening: The crook, or his agent, comes to a person’s house or apartment building to collect the ransom in cash.

That’s what happened to a woman I’ll call Cecilia, an 88-year-old who lives on the Upper East Side with her daughter and family. I’m changing some details so the people can’t be recognized or unduly harassed.

Cecilia’s daughter told me the story in phone conversations and emails. “My mother received a call from someone impersonating my son, saying he was in an accident and in jail,” she says.

So far, standard.

“This person got on the phone saying he was a lawyer and she needed to give cash to get her grandson out of jail,” she continued.

He wanted cash. No gift cards for this crook.

Cecilia went to the Bank of America branch on East 86th Street and Lexington Avenue and withdrew $9,500. She was told by the crook that someone would come for the money.

That’s the new variation. In the past, victims would be out money — but at least they weren’t in any physical danger.

“They came to our building,” the daughter says, “and the doorman told her she had a visitor who didn’t want to go upstairs. She came downstairs and gave the man the money.”

The doorman later told the daughter that Cecilia was upset and “in a daze. He tried to help, but my mother said she was OK.”

Cecilia was acting strange at the bank as well and the workers at Bank of America offered her a glass of water to calm her down.

The family did get a notification of a large withdrawal from the account — but it was too late to stop the transaction.

“My husband handles my mom’s finances and got a withdrawal alert and called me to ask why Mom took out a lot of money,” said the daughter. “I had called her and she kept saying, ‘I will tell you when I get home.’ So I rushed home. If I got there five minutes earlier, I could have stopped it.”

Or gotten hurt in a physical altercation with the person picking up the cash.

Police believe the call from the scammer came from Canada. They are pretty sure that someone else picks up the money. “They are always third parties picking it up,” said a detective working the case.

The whole thing was caught on street cameras, and police have a warrant out for the suspect.

Alarmingly, Cecilia isn’t the only one who is being scammed in this way.

“We have cases like this throughout the city. It’s not unusual anymore,” the detective said, adding that the police are working with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to solve the crime.

According to the daughter, the person who picked up the money “was clean cut. No facial hairs or body tattoos” that could be seen.

The police told the daughter that sometimes the people picking up the money “don’t know what they were hired to do.”

I contacted Bank of America when I heard about this incident a few weeks ago, but I didn’t get a response.

Nor did Cecilia’s family hear from the bank, according to the daughter.

In case you think this is an instance of a feeble-minded individual being outsmarted, the daughter has this to say: “My mom’s very savvy. She hangs up on telemarketers.”

But now Cecilia doesn’t even answer the phone.

If you’ve been taken by a scam like this, call the cops. And if you haven’t — yet — maybe this will make you a little more careful and suspicious of phone calls like the one Cecilia got. Just ignore the stranger’s plea and hang up.


Here’s something to remember in 2020 that you might have forgotten: The stock market doesn’t always go up, like it did last year.

Think about the swoon that happened after December 2018, when the Federal Reserve started to raise interest rates for the first time in a decade.

And think about what will happen if the next decade is one in which high inflation is the prevailing theme and interest rates need to go much higher.


Since this column is such a downer, let me finish by saying Happy New Year and good health to you in 2020!

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Author: New York Post
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