|Gypsies, Vamps And Thieves
Con Artists Among Us
By LIZ GOFF
The 79-year-old Corona man headed out on his daily walk to
Junction Boulevard on recent day, where he always stopped to shop and shoot the breeze
with other seniors. But this day was different.
Along the way, he was approached by two men who identified
themselves as Con Ed workers who were checking meters in local residences. The men said
they were headed for the block where the senior lives and would have to gain access to his
residence to check his meter.
The senior walked back to his apartment with the men and
let them in. When the men asked for a $5 "fee" for the service, the senior, in
full view of the men, went to a drawer where he stored cash and gave them $5.
The men opened up a conversation with the senior,
distracting him as an accomplice went through the apartment stealing cash and valuables.
By the time the senior realized what was happening, the men had cleaned-out the cash
"stash" and ransacked the other rooms at the apartment, taking jewelry and other
The senior, alone and vulnerable, was afraid to confront
It was a classic "Imposter Burgular" scam
this time preyed on a senior who was on the street instead of at home.
Theyre Out There
We would all like to believe that we live in a perfect
society. But in a time when innocent people are pushed under subway trains and shot for
changing lanes while driving, should the presence of scam artists surprise us?
Experts in senior crime report that the elderly are often
folly for con artists. Despite constant media attention and warnings to seniors, they
continue to be confused by the actions of con artists, and tend to trust them, experts
said. Many seniors dont see when they are putting themselves in danger. And
criminals assume sometimes correctly, that seniors are weak or ill and may not be
able to defend themselves against economic crimes.
In addition, con artists often view seniors living alone or
away from relatives as an easy target. These criminals seek-out "single" seniors
and rely on their own lack of conscience to prey on lonely seniors. They tend to prey on
widows who may have relied on their husbands to manage family finances and tend to home
repairs, experts said.
Every year thousands of people report losing their money
often their life savings on scams.
Todays scam artists have perfected their art, working
in teams to swindle unsuspecting seniors out of their "nestegg." Experts say
education is the best defense to avoid being taken in by a scam. Learn to identify the
scheme and the con artist, police said. And remember if it sounds too good to be
true, it probably is.
Con artists are often "charming." Theyll
try to convince you to participate in a scheme that looks innocent but be careful.
They may seen friendly, but thats just a ploy to gain a victims confidence and
trust, experts said. Its much easier to scam a trusting victim.
With the help of the NYPD, we have compiled three of the
worst and most often utilized rip-offs. They include:
The Imposter Burglar
Scam artist neighborhood, searching for signs that indicate
"senior live here." The garbage can, or a walker in the yard or driveway.
The thieves ring the door bell and say they are from the
Water Department and there is a problem with water in the area. They warn the
seniors about bacteria in the water and the need to check for safety. After, they pull a
$50 bill and wave it at the senior, implying it is a "refund" owed to them by
Theyre good talkers, said NYPD Ret. Det. Bob Geis,
formerly of the NYPD Special Frauds Unit. "They schmoooze their victims," Geis
While they talk, one accomplice or two ramsacks the home,
stealing cash and valuables. A horn blown outside the home, the "schmooozer"
tells his victim he has to check on something "in the truck," he leaves
and its all over. The crime, like the victims cash is history.
These con artists have gone so far as to walk out with a
safe from one resident, Geis said.
Gies recalled a particular harsh scam in January, 99,
when a Douglaston man fill victim to a group as imposter burglars who fled with $400,000
cash- his entire life savings.
The Home Repair Scam
Beware of anyone who calls or shows up at your home
unsolicited offering to fix your roof, paint your home or apartment, or fix a
household appliance, water heater, electric or water meter, etc.
These people may be waiting to take your money (usually
cash) for repairs they did not make, or to steal cash and valuables from a bedroom while a
member of the "team" distracts you in another part of the house.
Before you let anyone enter your home, be sure to check for
proper credentials from authorized utilities, or companies you have contacted to make
repairs. If you are not expecting a repair or utility man, call the company they claim to
represent to determine if someone has been sent to your home. If not, call 911 and wait
inside for police to arrive do not open the door to speak with the con artists.
They could harm you.
Tellers And Thieves
They call themselves "readers" and
"advisors." Some have dubbed themselves "healers,"
"psychics" or clairvoyants who can tell you what the future holds, remove curses
(for a price), heal illnesses, tell of past lives, loves and losses.
But theyre actually out to bilk unsuspecting victims
often seniors, to lighten your wallet by offering help with problems, if you pay
Police in Queens busted a psychic several months ago, who
operated from a house on Utopia Parkway, where she took $10,000 from a victim to
"remove a curse."
Sonya Cruz Costello, 34, of 47-43 Utopia Pkwy., Flushing,
was arrested after police, posing as customers, sought advice from the psychic.
The cops paid a first fee of $25 and were told that they
had enemies who had put a curse on them. For extra payments, the psychic could remove the
curses through a series of elaborate rituals.
Subsequent visits cost both cops different amounts
$50 to $100. They were given candles to burn, bags of soil to wear around their necks
and a variety of oils to pour in bathwater, to help remove the curses.
The cops who recorded their "sessions" each paid
out at least $1,000 before they called it quits, telling the psychic the sessions had
become too expensive for them to continue.
Thats when "Operation Crystal Ball" came
crashing down on Costello, putting an end to her scams.
Another victim paid Costello $360 for "purging"
candles that would allow her to look into his soul. Once he had paid for the candles,
Costello told him he was cursed and would have to give her $10,000 to remove the curse.
She would bury the money in a graveyard to remove the bad spirits. The man, a senior
citizen, gave Costello the money his life savings.
Help is available to seniors who wish to learn all they can
about scams and flim-flam artists before they fall victim to their schemes.
Police at the 107th Precinct in Fresh Meadows are offering
monthly seminars on ways to avoid becoming a victim. The seminars are held at the Senior
Center at the Pomonok Houses.
To register, attend, or seek help, contact Police Officer
Joseph Iorio at the 107th Crime Prevention Office at 969-5100.
Help is also available through the Queens District
Attorneys Office of Economic Fraud by calling 286-6000, or the NYPD Special Frauds
Unit at (212) 374-6850.
Brothers In Crime:
Queens Cops Got Em Licked
By LIZ GOFF
They travel in circles throughout the U.S., flim-flamming
unsuspecting seniors out of their life savings.
They go by nicknames like "Popsicle," and
"Fudgesicle." And on a recent stormy afternoon in Fresh Meadows, police at the
Queens South Robbery Task Force licked em.
Rocky Miller "POPSICLE"
Michael Miller "FUDGESICLE"
Theyre "Home Repair
Gypsies," con artists who seek out seniors, knock on their door to offer roofing,
concrete repairs, painting, plastering, etc. And once they have the senior in their grip,
they take them for everything they have.
Dewey Miller, Rocky Miller, Michael Miller, Sonny Miller,
and Stacy Cristo approached the home of a Fresh Meadows senior on Sept. 15 to pull off a
scam. The suspicious victim refused to hear them out and when she tried to shut her front
door, the men tried to push their way in, shoving the woman to the floor, the men fled.
Neighbors heard her screams and dialed 911,
bringing police from the 107th Precinct and the Robbery cops to the victims home
within minutes, neighbors said.
Sgt. Angelo Di Pierro and Police Officer Michael Ackerman
of the Robbery Task Force were cruising the neighborhood when a call came in describing
the suspects who happened to be the same men whose images were plastered across
NYPD Intelligence Reports which had been distributed by detectives at the Queens Robbery
Squad. Robbery cops had established a pattern for the men and their crime spree, which ran
from Queens Village to the streets of Astoria and Long Island City. The men were listed on
one NYPD "Hot Sheet" as con artists out of Chicago who worked the streets of
Stacey Cristo "MADMAN"
Di Pierro and Ackerman had the Intelligence
information secured to the dashboard on their patrol car, including a description of the
vehicles that were being driven by the suspects complete with plate numbers.
The cops spotted a red truck that matched the description
of one of the vehicles and arrested the suspects.
During a series of lineups at the 109th Precinct, the
suspects were positively identified by victims in the 105th, 107th, 111th, 112th, 114th
and 115th Precincts in Queens.
At their arraignment, Queens prosecutors requested bail for
the suspects and a Bail Hearing to verify where and how the suspects obtained money
submitted for bail.
All five men are currently behind bars, awaiting trial or
disposition of their cases.