Even though a con artist appears to have been working a phone scam in the Bayonne/ Jersey City area for years, the scam took a sharp turn in August when the con man allegedly threatened to kill a senior citizen who challenged the scam as fake.
Police Detective Keith Striffolino said two seniors received phone calls from someone located on the off-shore island of Jamaica saying they could be eligible to win a $2.5 million lottery. All they had to do was purchase a $450 Walmart gift card and send it to an address provided.
Striffolino said while both seniors were skeptical of the offer, one rebuffed the caller, causing the con man to get angry and make a death threat.
“Once you realize it is a scam, hang up. Don’t send anything, just call us.” – Detective Keith Striffolino
“This lottery scam has been going on for a year,” Stiffolino said. “But last month, two victims contacted us to say they were approached. One of them was threatened when challenging the phone caller.”
Both seniors reported the calls to the police, and indeed, since the original report of the scam, the police received three other calls, two from Bayonne and one from Jersey City, from people saying they’d received similar calls.
“Two of the Bayonne people were located on 21st and 22nd streets,” Striffolino said. “This suggests that they have some pattern that they are following.”
The con man, Striffolino said, is likely aware of the fact that a new Walmart is scheduled to open shortly in Bayonne, and is stepping up the calls.
“The caller appears to be aware of new advertising that is announcing the opening of the store here soon,” he said. “It may be a new group operating the scam that thinks they can intimidate seniors into sending the gift cards.”
A legitimate lottery, he said, would not ask for money upfront the way this scam does, and he warns residents to be vigilant against calls of this kind and to report them to the police.
“Once you realize it is a scam, hang up. Don’t send anything, just call us,” he said. “If they call back, keeping hanging up until they stop. If the calls don’t stop, contact the police. One victim got 10 calls in one day.”
While the Bayonne police do not have the jurisdiction to make arrests, the police want to keep track of the activity.
Con men target senior citizens a lot because they see them as most susceptible. Such scam artists may also make repeat calls over time, hoping that elderly people, who could be suffering from some memory disability, might forget about the earlier calls and become more vulnerable as time passes.
The con artist, he said, is trying to find a senior he can control.
He said no one should give out information over the telephone such as Social Security, credit card or bank numbers and should report suspicious calls.
If you have questions or want to report a call, contact the Bayonne Police Department at (201) 858-6900.