Sunday, April 14, 2024

Blairstown Police Help Head Off Sophisticated Scam

A Blairstown resident came really, really close to being scammed out of $45,000 earlier this month. 

Police Chief Scott Johnsen said the potential mark came to headquarters on February 3 to relate his concerns about a pop-up notice he received on his computer the day before warning of a virus that could freeze all his bank accounts along with a phone number to contact what claimed to be Microsoft.

He called the number and the party answering told him to—first clue—not to contact anyone or do anything with his computer. 

Shortly after, he received a call from someone claiming to represent PNC Bank. The caller instructed him to withdraw $45,000 from his checking account and send it to an address in California, where it would be—second clue—safely returned to his account where he could access it. 

The resident did as he was instructed and withdrew the money as a cashier’s check and sent it to the California address by UPS overnight. 

After he sent the money and he had a chance to think without the threat of all his money being frozen hanging over him, he had second thoughts and contacted UPS, which changed the shipment to return to sender.

He contacted the police and was advised to freeze his bank accounts and to notify Experian consumer credit reporting service and Social Security.

Blairstown Police Officer Thomas Tutka contacted his counterparts in Rialto, California, where the check was headed, and was able to assist in getting the shipment stopped, and the check was returned to the resident. 

Johnsen said people should never, ever, be reluctant to call the police. No person or business acting legitimately would ever warn someone to not call the police. Johnsen emphasized that there is no concern or suspicion too small to call the police about. And you should never feel hesitant or embarrassed to call the police. Anybody can fall for a scam under the right circumstances. 

Just recently a financial advice columnist went public to offer such a warning and how she was persuaded to hand over a box containing $50,000 in cash to a stranger in a car. 

Journalist Charlotte Cowles described in detail in The New Yorker magazine how she was taken in by elaborate scam that used fear, technology and her own personal information—including the name of her child—to convince her it was real. 

Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.