Handlin on Scammers, Middletown’s Unique Government Mix

July 28, 2018
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By Jay Cook | 

More Bills Coming To Fight Scams

For Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, the fight against scam artists who con senior citizens  is personal: her 92-year-old father-in-law fell victim to numerous scams that, she said, “bilked him out of huge amounts of money before the family became aware of it.”

In response, Handlin (R-13) has become one of New Jersey’s top watchdogs for scams targeting all age groups and populations. And a recent bipartisan bill making its way through the state Legislature backs that up.

Along with state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11), the two Monmouth County elected officials introduced a bill earlier this month forcing telecommunications companies to include free information about fraud and scams in public outreach already being sent to customers. The director of the Division of Consumer Affairs will determine a warning statement to be published and contact information for other state and federal agencies will be attached as well.

Telecommunications companies charging customers for scam protection is “one of the things that steams me,” Handlin said. The bill plans to eliminate that.

“From my perspective, that’s like a hotel charging for locks on the guest room doors,” she continued. “I think that it’s time for them to step up and work with us.”

Seniors continue to be the most heavily targeted demographic by scam artists, Handlin said. According to a 2016 report from the state Attorney General’s office, one in five Americans over the age of 65 have been “financially exploited” to the tune of $2.6 billion annually.

“A large percentage of seniors are on fixed incomes and unfortunately a large percentage of seniors are the particular targets of scam artists,” said Handlin. “They view seniors as vulnerable.”

But con artists also reach beyond senior citizens. Attempts to steal money from the general population are being pushed through robocalls, which are increasing. Handlin said the practice of “spoofing” is when scammers corrupt regular cellphone numbers and use them for calls. More than ever these calls pop up with nearby area codes, confusing the consumer.

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Handlin, however, combats scam attempts through her platform as an elected official. Her Facebook page regularly posts information for New Jersey residents who’ve been scammed. Posts like #FraudWatchFriday and #WarningSignsWednesday pop up weekly. But the fight continues, regardless of legislation and new laws passed.

“No matter what form of scam we can stop, they’ll always come up with another one,” said Handlin. “The only way to protect yourself and the people you care about is education.”

For more information about protection from scams, visit Handlin’s Facebook page @aswhandlinNJ13.

Middletown’s Governing Body In a Unique Situation

It couldn’t be further from Jan. 7, but it sure felt like a formal township reorganization July 16 when the Middletown Township Committee officially moved into rather uncharted territory with a slew of new changes to the governing body.

Topping the list is the fact that Middletown now has more appointed officials than elected officials on the governing body, three and two, respectively. Three longtime incumbents, two of whom were former mayors, have stepped away from Middletown in the last nine months.

“You very rarely have to do this once, let alone twice or maybe three times,” said Middletown Deputy Mayor Tony Fiore, one of the last remaining elected officials. “That just goes to show when you have a committee that’s had quite a long tenure, I guess that certainly can happen. We’re very fortunate to have three candidates who put themselves up again this year.”

Middletown’s local Republican committee put up Greta Siwiec, Christopher Aveta and Patricia Snell to fill the vacancy, and Snell was appointed replace former Mayor Stephanie Murray. Murray resigned June 22 citing increased professional responsibilities; she became the full-time business administrator in West Long Branch in February.

Patricia Snell Takes the oath of office from Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas A. Anone as she is sworn in to Middletown’s governing body. There are now more appointed officials than elected officials on the dais.

Snell, a 24-year real estate veteran now with Heritage House Sotheby’s International Realty in Rumson, has been a resident in the Navesink section for the last 35 years. Most recently, she was appointed to the township’s Planning Board in 2018.

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“My vision for Middletown is much the same as your vision,” she told residents. “It’s become the very best and safest place to live and I hope to help continue that road to make it even better.”

Kevin Settembrino served for nearly a month as acting mayor in Murray’s absence and was selected as mayor for the remainder of 2018. Fiore, formerly a committeeman, was elevated to deputy mayor. They both took new oaths of office Monday evening.

The other appointed officials are Tony Perry and Rick Hibell. Perry was sworn in October 2017 after Stephen Massell stepped down to take a position on the Monmouth County Tax Board. Hibell was appointed Feb. 20 to fill the vacancy left by Gerry Scharfenberger when he was appointed to the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

There was some opposition and support for the governing body’s new configuration Monday evening. Middletown officials approved an introduction to a 150-acre redevelopment plan along Route 35 North, but resident Stephen Lewis said the town should have refrained, considering its new structure.

“To me, this is inconsistent with representative democracy,” he said.

Cathy Rogers, on the other hand, spoke up and supported the three newly appointed committee members.

“This committee, regardless of whether they’re new or not, has done an excellent job in this township,” she said. “They have kept our taxes down. They have looked out for the people of this town. They were around after Sandy.”

Perry and Hibell are running for election in November, but it’s yet to be seen if Snell will run alongside them on a Republican ticket. They will be facing Democratic challengers.

This article was first published in the July 19 – 26, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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