Be Wary of Holiday Scams, Officials Warn

December 3, 2018
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Georgian Court University Director of Security, Thomas Zambrano, led a Nov. 28 seminar at the Colts Neck Library about senior citizen safety, including how to avoid holiday scams. Photo by Chris Rotolo

By Chris Rotolo |

COLTS NECK – This time of year brings out the best in people. And sometimes the worst.

At a presentation at the public library Wednesday, security expert Thomas Zambrano advised a group of 15 seniors how to recognize and defend against holiday scams.

“Certainly this time of year you have to be on heightened alert because a lot of people really are trying to take advantage of those who are just trying to do the right thing,” said Zambrano, director of security at Georgian Court University.

“We do see fraud operations a lot more this time of year, because people are giving more and trying to figure out what charities to support and what donations they want to give,” he said.

Last month an elderly Monmouth County resident was scammed out of $32,000 over the phone, according to Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni. The theft prompted the prosecutor’s office to issue a press release informing residents about recent scams.

Scammers persuaded the senior they had won $17 million in the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes and the $32,000 was a required advance tax payment.

“Scammers reel you in with big promises of big money winnings and set you up for smaller money payouts that continue to grow as they iron out the details of your big winnings. Do not give them any of your hard-earned money,” Gramiccioni warned.

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The prosecutor’s office has also reported a growing number of similar scam operations involving phony Internal Revenue Service (IRS) refunds, as well as multimillion-dollar lottery winnings and the popular “grandparents scam,” which Gramiccioni said caused some elderly residents to lose their entire life savings.

The “grandparents scam” preys on the emotions and attachments of grandparents to their grandchildren by suggesting a fabricated circumstance involving phony police arrests, motor vehicle accidents or other embarrassing situations supposedly requiring lump sums of bail money. Scammers will often ask for these payments to be made in the form of gift cards. Once the gift card has been activated, they request the card number.

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13)  said its important for people to know how scammers operate because now is “prime time” for their fraudulent practices.

“They do this full time and are good at it,” Handlin said. Her own 92-year-old father-in-law was bilked out of large sums of money before her family became aware of it.

Handlin and state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) have introduced a bill forcing telecommunications companies to send free information about fraud and scams to customers, alerting people to report scams to state and federal agencies.

“The only way for us to fight back is by educating ourselves and alerting our loved ones, our neighbors, our communities, so people can know what to watch for. In this situation, a strong defense is a strong offense.”

Zambrano said, “The more people know what signs to look for, the more they’ll feel empowered to respond correctly and not give out personal information.”

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To learn more, Handlin suggests residents visit the web page for the state Division of Consumer Affairs at, which offers a list of red flags to look out for while on the phone, as well as potential e-mail, postal mail and door-to-door scam operations.

“The best way to avoid falling victim to spoofing scams is to not answer calls from unknown phone numbers. Do not give out any personal information to anyone over the phone. Any legitimate business or government agency already has that information.” Gramiccioni explained in a release.

“And do not call back numbers that are left in voicemail. If you get a call from a utility company, find your bill and call the number on the document. The same goes for credit card companies, government agencies or lotteries.”

This article was first published in the Nov. 29 – Dec. 5, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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