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‘Hostage’ phone scam nearly costs Wyckoff man $900

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

PUBLIC SAFETY: The “hostage scam” nearly claimed a victim in Wyckoff who stopped a $900 transfer just in time to a thief who convinced him that his brother had been kidnapped.

The “hostage scam” grew legs roughly two years ago, with scammers demanding cash in return for the release of a relative who couldn’t pay for car crash damages.

Westwood Police Chief Frank Regino said residents recently have reported such calls in his town.

This time, Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox said, a 49-year-old borough resident got a call demanding the $900 for the release of his brother.

The man bought it after he tried calling but couldn’t reach his brother, the chief said.

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After wiring the money from a nearby store, he called police — which, in the end, saved his money.

The responding officer was at the man’s home and answered the phone when the sammer called again.

When the officer identified himself, the caller said “I was just kidding” and hung up, Fox said.

At the officer’s urging, the resident cancelled the wire just in time.

Such scammers “are preying on your emotions and fears that someone is in trouble,” Fox said. “That tends to allow them to coerce people into taking actions without fully thinking things through.”

Some are very convincing, he said.

In many cases, the caller — speaking in Spanish or with a Spanish accident — claims he was involved in a car accident with the target’s loved one in or around New York City.

Because the victim couldn’t afford to pay for the damage, the caller says, he’s holding that person captive, with weapons, until the family member can go to the bank, withdraw money and head to the nearest Western Union.

The amounts ordinarily are in the low thousands, or just below. The purported kidnapper demands it be wired to Puerto Rico or somewhere else outside the U.S.

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

Fox, of Wyckoff, said the best advice before sending anyone anything in any situation is to “talk with someone else first.”

Call a trusted relative or friend. Or better yet: Call police, he said.

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