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NPPD Crime Prevention Tip:

Avoiding Scams & Protecting Property


With the warm weather of summer, Police Departments in Central New Jersey often see a spike in the number and frequency of “scams” and “thefts of opportunity”.  Scams can be defined as criminal trickery used to separate victims from their money and/or property.  However, many could be avoided if the victim remembered the old adage: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Or as the comedian W. C. Fields used to say: you can’t cheat an honest man.  The most commonly investigated scams fall into three varieties: distraction burglaries; home improvement deceptions and “pigeon drops”.  These crimes are usually carried out by experienced criminals and often targeted at specific segments of society. 

Not as complicated, but just as problematic are “thefts of opportunity” or “cherry-picking”.  The term cherry-picking, refers to criminals selecting what they want from vehicles, based on what they think they can use, sell or convert to cash. These incidents are often unplanned by the criminal but carried out when the opportunity presents itself.  In Central New Jersey a large proportion of these incidents are the theft of personal property from motor vehicles. Any item of value, left in plain sight in a car is a target.  Many police officers have heard people who commit these crimes say they saw the item in a car and decided to take it.  If the car isn’t locked it is even easier.  If the car is locked, it just means breaking a window first; not a big problem when it’s not your carThese incidents can be avoiding by not leaving MP3 players; radios; GPS units and cell phone in the plain view in the passenger compartment of cars.  At the very least those items should be secured in the trunk or out of sight.  Leaving them visible is an invitation to theft.  Take your valuable items out of your car; if that is not possible secret them out of sight.  Doing so will greatly reduce the chances of the item being stolen.             

Distraction burglaries are usually targeted at senior citizens in single family residential neighborhoods. Typically a male in work clothes, often wearing a tool belt and carrying a portable radio will make contact with a homeowner and indicate he is with the water company or other public utility.  He may say he is checking on water pressure in the neighborhood and ask the homeowner to show him where an exterior water spigot is or where the supply line comes into the house in the cellar.  While that party distracts the resident a second party will enter the house and head to the master bedroom where the dressers and closets are ransacked for valuables.  A short key of the transmit button on the second party’s radio lets the first party know that the mission is complete.  They get away with cash or jewelry before the resident knows it’s gone. Lesson:  Always ask to see legitimate employment identification, if the person can’t provide it don’t let them in your house and immediately call the police. 

Typical home improvement scams are often carried out by gypsy transient groups that have various ethnic backgrounds.  A home owner may be approached by the group’s leader masquerading as a legitimate contractor. Often he will claim they were sealing or paving driveways in the area and had an abundance of high quality left over material they will utilize at a deeply discounted price.  If the homeowner agrees, they may find out they just had their driveway “sealed” with the used motor oil from the gypsy group’s caravan of vehicles.  New Jersey criminal law now mandates that contractors be licensed by the state of New Jersey.  Lesson:  When contemplating home improvements, you should initiate contact with contractors, and avoid work by “contractors” that initiate contact with you. Similar scams have involved chimney issues, and recently one Somerset County municipal police department investigated a case where scam artists approached a senior in a shopping center parking lot offering to conduct low cost body work on the victim’s car. 

Finally, there are the “pigeon drop” scams.  These are often targeted at recent immigrants.  The first criminal will approach the victim and make an indication such as that they have found a large sum of money or have a winning lottery ticket but need help since they are undocumented.  They then “coincidentally” meet another citizen, (actually another criminal working in concert with the first criminal). That party may offer to put up some cash or jewelry in good faith, and suggest the victim do like wise with the intention that they all split the proceeds once they have been legally obtained by one of the group.  The victim then may go home for jewelry, or withdraw cash from the bank as a sign of good faith. At some point the victim will be separated from her property as the other two parties go to either with draw cash from the second party’s bank or go to “cash-in” a winning lottery ticket. They never come back but have the victim’s contribution.  Another common conclusion leaves the victim with a brown paper bag seemingly filled with cash.  Once the criminals separate and are away, the victim finds it contacts slips of newspaper.  The details may differ but the result is the same, a person is separated from their property. Lesson:  Avoid strangers offering you money for nothing and asking you to put up good faith collateral; immediately contact your local police instead.    

Again the bottom line with these incidents is that if something seems too good to be true it probably is.  The other thing to remember is never let people unknown to you into your home without proper identification.  Finally if you are uncomfortable with someone or a set of circumstances you find yourself in immediately contact your local law enforcement agency.