ROXBURY, NJ – He’s usually a pretty even-tempered guy, but when it comes to older people being ripped-off by scam artists, Roxbury Police Chief Marc Palanchi can have trouble policing his emotions.
You can see the frustration in his eyes and hear it in his voice; Palanchi’s been there too often when a senior citizen is advised they were victimized.
“I see that poor distraught person sitting in our police station,” he said. “That poor victim crying and saying, ‘What have I done?’ They are crying and can’t even put sentences together. And you sit there and watch that. That’s where the anger comes in.”
He tries to console the elderly victims, but his blood gets hot when he thinks of the predator who stole their money through some telephone scam or other scheme that preys on the vulnerable. His thoughts about the thief are not pretty:
“You scumbag. You stole from this sweet old lady who’s taken care of her family and kids. Her husband passed and she lives alone and all she wants to do is be left alone to live her life out. You just took that from her - or you took a chunk of that from her. That’s where you say to yourself, ‘You know what? I can’t look at that anymore.’”
Taking It In His Own Hands
So Palanchi decided to do something new. He recently embarked on a mission - something he’s calling his Senior Citizen Initiative - aiming to educate and warn seniors in Roxbury even if it means visiting every one of them personally.
“It’s getting worse,” said the chief. “I’ve been looking at this and I’m seeing more and more and more. I said to myself that we need to start really targeting our seniors and protecting them … I don’t have anybody else to take this on, and it’s important to me, so I’m doing this myself.”
Palanchi said he’s been attending meetings of Roxbury’s two senior citizen clubs. He talks to the members and sticks around afterward to answer any questions.
“They line up,” Palanchi said. “Some weeks I’ll have 20 questions … They come up to me on the side and say, ‘I fell for that scam you were talking about, but I didn’t want to raise my hand because I was embarrassed.’”
A Dedicated Phone Line
Additionally, Palanchi set up a special “Police Advisor for Seniors” phone number at the police department: (973) 448-2037. He is urging seniors, or concerned friends and relatives, to call that number if they are suspicious about a possible scam. All calls will get a response from himself, another officer or a detective, he promised.
He said he will go to nursing homes, senior housing, churches. Whatever it takes to raise awareness.
The township has seen its share of senior citizen scam victims. It’s rare, but sometimes justice is served: In October 2017, police charged a Gutenberg man with attempting to steal more than $30,000 from a Kenvil woman through a roofing scam.
But too often, the con artists get away with their deeds and their victims’ money, Palanchi said. This time of year, scammers are particularly active because many seniors have tax refund money at hand, he noted. He urged seniors to “take a minute and think” before answering questions posed during phone calls.
Just Hang Up
The Internal Revenue Service doesn’t call and threaten people, he stressed. Those calls are scams and so are many solicitations for what sound to be good causes.
“Don’t give donations over the phone,” Palanchi said. “The police department and fire department will never call you over the phone (seeking donations).”
Among the more frightening cases in Roxbury was one that happened recently, said the chief.
“They called a woman and said, ‘Your husband was just in a car accident with my boss and we are an organized crime family. If you don’t go to Western Union and send me $3,500, we’re going to kill you husband.”
The criminals will even pretend to be police notifying grandparents that their grandchildren were arrested and will stay behind bars until bail is posted, Palanchi explained.
“They’ll send them to Home Depot or Lowe’s and say ‘You can pay for his bail with gift cards. Buy $2,000 in Home Depot gift cards. Call back this number and give me the code for the gift card and we will release him,’” Palanchi said. “We just did one for $4,000 two weeks ago.”
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