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Bank teller thwarts virtual kidnapping after Lyndhurst man withdraws $1,700

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

ONLY ON CVP: Moments after a panicked Lyndhurst man withdrew $1,700 from his bank to send to a man who claimed to be holding his daughter hostage, a quick-moving teller summoned police who thwarted the scam.

Officers quickly found the 45-year-old target after he told the PNC Bank teller why he needed the money, Police Chief James O’Connor told CLIFFVIEW PILOT tonight.

“The poor man was frantic,” O’Connor said.

In what has become an all-too-familiar ruse, the virtual kidnapper called the father at work and told him that one of his daughters had gotten into a car accident in Newark and couldn’t pay for the damage, the chief said.

The caller said he was holding her until the father could wire him the cash, then called him on his cellphone and made him stay on the line through the transaction.

Police intercepted the man, contacted his daughters from headquarters and reassured him that “everybody was where they were supposed to be,” O’Connor said.

Human nature makes otherwise intelligent people succeptible. Fast-talking virtual kidnappers exploit fear by creating instant panic, disorienting their victims.

They play the con quickly, before the victim can gather his or her wits.

“If people just stop, take a breath and think it through, they’ll realize that it’s a scam,” O’Connor said. “Easier said than done, of course.”

More sophisticated operators know that the loved one isn’t with the target — maybe he or she is at work or school — when the call is made.

They will often try to make the target believe that he or she is being watched, although the calls actually are coming from out of the country.

And while there are various scenarios, the accident scam is one of the most prevalent.

“They’ll usually say that the victim was on the way to work,” Bogota Police Chief John C. Burke said. “Most of them actually do work, so the family members aren’t able to contact them immediately to confirm or deny what happened.”

The caller — speaking in Spanish or with a Spanish accent — directs the mark to withdraw money, head to the nearest Western Union and wire the cash to Puerto Rico or somewhere else outside the U.S.

In some places, such as Mexico, the victim is directed to go to another location (for his or her own safety, the callers say) and remain on the line to await further instructions.

Amounts vary locally but tend to fall around $1,500.

“So far we’ve had at least six asking for that range through Western Union,” Washington Township Police Lt. John Calamari said recently.

The amounts sometimes decrease at the first signs of resistance, Westwood Police Chief Frank Regino said.

“Instructions usually require the ransom payment be made immediately and typically by wire transfer or by prepaid credit card such as Green Dot,” Regino said.

A 49-year-old Wyckoff man wired $900 after being told last month that his brother was being held. He cancelled the transfer in time after contacting police.

Police in Westwood and Saddle Brook have reported similar recent attempts, as the crime continues to spread wide and fast.

A Washington Township woman was frightened at first when told that her abducted husband would “get a bullet in the head” if she didn’t wire $1,500 earlier this month.

She exhaled when he said that her daughter also was abducted: The mother knew exactly where she was. She then called her husband, who was safe and sound, as well.

It didn’t end there, though: The daughter also got a call.

Like her mother, she was told that her father — an emergency responder well-known in the Pascack Valley area — was in an accident. He needed money to cover the medical bills of the other person involved, the virtual kidnapper said.

Although neither woman was conned, both were concerned over how the caller got their personal information and phone numbers, a friend of the family told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

“These callers are very convincing – and very upsetting with the head games that they’re playing on people,” the friend said. “Those women were pretty shaken up.”

Others, unfortunately, have become victims in what now has become an epidemic of sorts, one that began in Latin American countries and worked its way north.

Blame the bounty of personal data shared on social networks. A semi-competent crook doesn’t have to be up the street to assemble enough pieces — names, addresses, phone numbers, job locations — to seem genuine.

“You’d think people wouldn’t believe this kind of call, but these guys are convincing,” a local law enforcement officer told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “One guy’s daughter went as far as trying to get money from friends at college to help her dad.”

Police urge residents to hang up when receiving such calls and immediately call them.

They also ask that you share this information with loved ones and friends so that they don’t become victims.

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