Phone Scammers Targeting Senior Citizens

MANCHESTER – Phone scammers are nothing new, but the individuals behind the line have taken a more personal tone recently, resorting to tactics that hit much closer to home.

Councilman Charles Frattini, Sr. took some time out of a recent council meeting to share a frightening call he received from a phone scammer who took things up a notch. The caller, who claimed to be an attorney, started out by telling him his granddaughter had been arrested for drunk driving after an accident.

“Of course this caught me really of guard because she’s in the Navy as a master chief and it’s not like her,” said Frattini.

The caller went on to say that his granddaughter didn’t want anyone to know and that she was very embarrassed, encouraging him not to tell anyone about the situation.

“She got on the phone, and by golly, it sounded just like her,” he said.

Frattini said he’d heard of other phone scams going on where relatives are kidnapped, and the caller asks for ransom, and there’s someone in the background screaming “pay it!”

This caller wanted $3,000 for bail money in a wire transfer from his bank to a third party individual’s bank. But instead of obliging, he called his daughter, who confirmed that it was a scam and told him not to do anything.

Manchester Police were notified and started monitoring the calls. During one of the final calls, Frattini said he told the caller, “My daughter says let her stay in jail.”

“Instead of my being fished in, he was the fish being fished in,” he said, adding, “I think it behooves us all to be very careful of who we send money to.”

Two eerily similar incidents befell residents of nearby Holiday City Berkeley in early August, according to reports from Berkeley Police.

In the first incident, the victim received a call from a male who identified himself as Sgt. Jonathan Maneli. Sgt. Maneli told the victim his grandson had been arrested in the Dominican Republic for having drugs in his car and would remain in police custody unless he send bail in the amount of $836. The officer advised the victim to send the money to Cecelia E. Franco via Western Union, which he did immediately, as he was worried for his grandson. He tried unsuccessfully to call his grandson after that, but eventually got in touch with his daughter-in-law, who told him his grandson was not in the Dominican Republic.

In a second incident, reported a day later, a male caller identified himself as the victim’s grandson and said he had gotten into a car accident while in the Dominican Republic on a sightseeing tour. When police there responded to the accident, the caller told his “grandmother” they found two pounds of heroin in the trunk, and he was arrested, brought to the American Embassy and in need of $865 bail in order to be released. The caller then asked the victim to wire the money to his friend, Yorleny Beltre, and gave her a contact number for a police officer there in case she had any questions.

She wired the money through Western Union, and then spoke with her family members only to find out that her grandson was not in the Dominican Republic and had never been arrested. During the conversation, the victim told Berkeley Police she did not detect any foreign accents from the caller.

The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs tracks phone fraud within the state and urges residents to “never send money under duress, especially when the person asking for the money tells you not to tell anyone you’re sending it.” The Division also advises that if you receive a call from a friend or relative in need, you should verify the story before sending any cash.

More information can be found at njconsumeraffairs.gov/FightingFraud/Pages/phone-scams.aspx.

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Sara Grillo is the Assistant News Editor/Writer at Micromedia Publications. She has lived in numerous areas within Monmouth and Ocean Counties for the past 9 years. Grillo studied Journalism and Communication Arts at Ramapo College and has held positions in Marketing, Public Relations and Sales prior to writing for Micromedia. Readers can contact her by emailing sgrillo@jerseyshoreonline.com.