It may be holiday time but gremlins are out to spoil the festivities of the season.
Mayor/Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco and Police Chief Tom Strumolo are cautioning Nutley residents to be wary of scammers posing as government agents, utility workers or whatever, out to plunder families’ hard-earned cash.
On Dec. 9, a Fischer Road resident contacted police with this hard luck story:
At 3 p.m., a man who, the elderly woman resident believed to be a construction worker, pounded on her front door and told her there was a chemical spill the next block over and he needed to check her basement water supply.
After displaying a fake ID, the resident allowed the man inside and led him down to the basement where he let the water run and then radioed an accomplice who, police said, entered the house and ransacked a bedroom.
The pair got away with an undisclosed amount of proceeds, police said.
Police said the phony construction worker was described as a Latino, 30 to 35, between 5-feet-7 and 6 feet, average build, 180 to 200 pounds, with dark hair, wearing blue jeans, a flannel shirt, dark jacket and dark color work boots.
Detectives are checking homes in the neighborhood for any surveillance footage that may have captured images of either of the burglars. Anyone who thinks they may have seen something or someone suspicious in the area at the time of the incident is asked to call Nutley PD at 973-284-4940.
“This is why we advise residents to avoid keeping valuables in their bedrooms because it’s usually the first place that burglars search,” said Nutley PD Det. Sgt. Anthony Montanari.
Chief Strumolo added that Nutley residents have been victimized several times in the past few years by burglars posing as utility workers. Running water in the basement prevents the resident from hearing someone else entering the house, he noted.
A criminal data search shows that more than 50 “diversion burglaries” with M.O.s similar to the Nutley incident and whose victims range in age from 70 to 80 have occurred in New Jersey during the past year and a half, according to Montanari.
Police said they were contacted about another scam on the same day as the Fischer Road burglary. The victim, another elderly woman, told police that a male caller who identified himself as an IRS agent threatened to have police arrest her for allegedly delinquent taxes. The woman was told to go to a pharmacy and forward a Green Dot payment to him and she complied, sending $4,000, before realizing she’d been swindled.
Strumolo said that crooks are more likely to prey on senior citizens who tend to be more trusting via phone scams or internet and social media tricks.
– Ron Leir