By Karen Zautyk
In our April 4 edition, The Observer warned readers of a new phone scam that was targeting Bergen County residents, but was expected to spread.
We reported that unsuspecting targets were receiving phone calls from individuals purporting to be sheriff’s officers who demanded immediate payment of a fine because the call recipient has ostensibly failed to report for jury duty.
Last week, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) announced it had arrested two suspects. One is a Georgia corrections officer, one is an inmate in Georgia, and the scam was being run out of a prison in that state.
As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.
The accused were identified as Clarinda K. Carter, a guard at the privately run Wheeler State Correctional Facility in Alamo, Ga., and Covian J. Camp, incarcerated at Autry State Prison in Pelham, Ga.
The two had apparently met at Wheeler, but Camp was later transferred to Autry. Carter, 26, waived extradition and was transported to the Bergen County Jail on May 16. She was being held on $200,000 bail.
Camp, 30, remained behind bars at Autry but was expected to be extradited. He reportedly is serving time for cocaine distribution.
In N.J., each has been charged with theft by extortion and impersonating a law enforcement officer.
In a statement last week, the BCSO noted that, in March, it had begun receiving “numerous complaints” from county residents.
Individuals posing as sheriff’s officers and using a prepaid cell phone with a 201 area code had called and “told them to provide credit card numbers and/or load money from their bank accounts onto prepaid debit cards in order to pay a fine in lieu of being arrested” for missing jury duty. Some call recipients were told they had to pay because they had an outstanding warrant.
The BCSO launched an investigation, along with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and Hackensack Police Department. It led to Georgia, where law enforcement had “also been plagued with these scams.”
According to published reports, the scam was being run out of Autry and may have involved hundreds of inmates. Last week, Georgia investigators reportedly detected 470 cellphones in the prison, where one inmate reportedly had stashed $300,000 in his commissary account.
Authorities believe the telephone con game has now spread to at least 12 states, with victims forking over millions of dollars.
Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino said the arrests of Carter and Camp are the first two “in a nationwide scam that we believe will lead to many more arrests in the coming months.”
Saudino commended the detectives in the BCSO Bureau of Criminal Investigation “for their diligence and hard work in tracking down the source of where these fraudulent calls were coming from.”
Bergen County authorities were aided in their investigation by the Georgia Department of Corrections, the Gwinnett County (Ga.) Sheriff’s Office and the Laurens County (Ga.) Sheriff’s Office.
Saudino urged that anyone who believes they may have been exposed to this or a similar fraud contact his office at 201-646-2222, www.bergentip.com, or their local police department.