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Astoria cops warn that scams are on rise, provide tips on how to avoid them

Policeprecinct 114Sept. 29, 2014 By Michael Florio

Scammers have been targeting western Queens residents at a greater rate in recent months—and the police provided attendees at the 114th Precinct meeting last week with tips on how to avoid being a victim.

Robert Semler, a police officer with the NYPD crime prevention unit, spoke to about 50 attendees at the Astoria-based precinct meeting last Tuesday and said that many people are falling victim to scammers who call and claim they are from the IRS or a utility company.

“The scammers claim that the [resident] owes them money on their account,” Semler said.

The callers, Semler said, ask the victims for personal information such as their social security and credit card numbers in order to pay bogus bills. In some cases, they will also ask the resident to go purchase a green dot card (which is like a prepaid debit card) and read the numbers back to them to settle a phony account.

Semler warned residents not to provide these random callers with personal information over the phone.

“No legitimate company will ask you for that information over the phone,” he said. “The most they will ask for is the last four digits of you social [security number], and if you owe money they send you a letter and give you ample time to pay.”

He recommended hanging up on suspicious callers and phoning the company for verification.

Semler said that fraudsters are also turning up to people’s houses claiming to be utility workers. They then claim that they have to check something inside the house and then abscond with the victim’s possessions.

Last week, a 78-year-old Queens (Ridgewood) man let in two scammers he believed were from ConEd. They stole $70,000 from his dresser and fled the scene.

Semler said to avoid this scam, residents should not let anyone into their homes without verification. He said residents should look for company trucks, ask the suspicious workers to show identification, and call the company to make sure they sent workers there.

He said the scammers have been primarily targeting older people.

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