• January 20, 2020
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Queens Chronicle

‘I’m not the only one’: a scam story

MidVille woman taken for $14K but gets money back after runaround

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Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2020 10:30 am | Updated: 11:36 am, Thu Jan 16, 2020.

Stefania Mazzini received a phone call in August from a lawyer. Her grandson was in Florida for a friend’s funeral and took a taxi that was pulled over for speeding. Mazzini’s grandson was arrested when police found drugs and a gun in the taxi.

The lawyer said he needed bail money — $14,000 — and put her grandson on.

“He was crying hysterically,” Mazzini told the Chronicle. “‘Help me, Grandma. Help me.’”

He asked Mazzini not to tell his father because he would break the news himself. Mazzini believed she should tell someone and called her daughter, who lives in California, but there was no answer. She went to the bank and transferred the money.

After going to a doctor’s appointment, she returned home and called her daughter. The daughter had news for Mazzini. The call was a scam.

There had been signs, such as her grandson not being old enough to travel alone.

“At that moment when you’re so upset and all worried, you don’t think of that,” Mazzini said.

She added, “You will go to the end of the world to help your grandchildren.”

Mazzini said the performance of the scammers deserved an Academy Award.

“Even the grandson’s voice was like my grandson,” she said.

At the bank, she explained the situation and the transaction was frozen before the money could be cashed. The scammer called back and she informed him that she knew it was a trick. Mazzini said she wanted her money back. The scammer said the money had been cashed and spent, though the teller assured Mazzini that wasn’t true.

However, the bank wouldn’t reimburse her, saying they needed a claim and that it was under investigation. Mazzini went to the 104th Precinct but a report was not filed.

“They would not do it because the money was not cashed,” she said.

Seemingly stuck, she went to the office of Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village).

With the money in limbo, Alicia Vaichunas, Holden’s deputy chief of staff, got involved. The police were called and a report was made.

Mazzini went back to the bank with the police report but was told she would still need a claim and a subpoena. Vaichunas filed a claim on behalf of Mazzini.

Det. Dimitrij Prokopez investigated and the Queens DA’s Office was able to seize the money and return it to Mazzini late last month.

“When you get money back for these constituents, it makes you feel great,” Vaichunas said. “It makes coming to work worthwhile.”

No arrests were made related to the case. Difficult to track down, scams are common.

“I’m not the only one,” Mazzini said of being victimized.

In 2017, nearly one in five people reported losing money in an impostor scheme like the grandparent scam amounting to a loss of $328 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Those 70 or older have suffered the highest average losses.

“It doesn’t mean you’re stupid,” Mazzini said. “It’s just that they are professionals. They know how to get people.”

Holden said he has to remind the residents of his district, which has a high senior population, to be aware of scams.

“There are many from the generation like my mom’s, or even my generation, that we kind of believed in people,” Holden said. “We actually trusted people. We do. I’ve become a little more tainted in that I don’t trust people now if they call on the phone.”

He recommended not trusting solicitations from people making phone calls or or even ringing a bell and saying they can fix something. The lawmaker recalled roof scammers who conned people in the area. He had to explain that roofing should not be done in 20 minutes and a legitimate roofer went to look at the work from the scammer and said it was simply spray-painted.

A few weeks ago, Mazzini received a phone call.

Her grandson needed money or was going to be in trouble with the police.

She hung up.

“Now I know,” Mazzini said.

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