Bank Follow-Outs - Another Day, Another Scam
Detective Lieutenant Robert Bracken updated The Clifton Times on another common scam in the hope of helping people avoid being taken advantage of this way. The bank follow-out scam, which can also occur at shopping malls or plazas, is so named because of the places where these usually begin.
A group of these clever scam artists will watch someone who is going into a bank to make a cash withdrawal or follow someone out from a store where they’ve made some sort of expensive purchase, like a new laptop. When the victim returns to their vehicle, someone from the team will surreptitiously make a small hole in one of the tires and then get into their own vehicle to drive behind the doomed victim, waiting for them to pull over.
When the victim realizes that there’s something wrong and pulls over to investigate, the scammers follow suit, playing the role of helpful passers-by. To the victim, it appears that some friendly strangers have come to their rescue. They will have tire patch equipment with them and offer to help the now-stranded victim.
After getting the victim out of the car to see the damaged tire, someone else from the team will sneak in and steal the just-withdrawn cash or packages from the front of the vehicle. The scammers fix the tire and send the grateful victim on their way. By the time the cash is noted as missing, the thieves are long gone and very hard to track down.
Bracken said that last year the city of Clifton was hit by more than a dozen of this specific type of scam, and those are just the ones that were reported. Sometimes crimes like this go unreported because the victims are embarrassed that they were tricked. He said that banks and malls are the big target areas.
So how can you protect yourself? Bracken cautioned that if you just made a cash withdrawal or a pricey purchase, you should treat any sudden problems with your vehicle with suspicion…especially if a so-called helpful stranger just happens to be right there the moment you need them. This “should be a red flag immediately,” he said. Bracken recommended that you treat any such event with extreme caution and politely decline the assistance. Instead, call the police or a tow truck.
You can also help to foil this type of plot by keeping your cash on your person - do not put it in the glove box or leave it in the console. Packages can be locked in the trunk where they would be much harder to reach without detection.
He added that not all acts of kindness need to be looked at with suspicion; there are good people out there who want to help a stranger in trouble. But if the problem occurs out of nowhere immediately following a withdrawal or big purchase, that should put you on high alert.
Bracken also added some words of advice regarding car thefts, which he said are at an all-time high. So far this year in Clifton alone, 120 motor vehicle thefts were reported. Some of these are recovered once they’ve served their purpose. Sometimes they are stolen just for joyriding and sometimes, to be used in the commission of some other crime. Vehicles that are retagged and sold for parts are rarely recovered, though.
Bracken reminded the public never to leave a car running, even for a minute while you run inside for a forgotten item. He also said that car doors should always be locked; most thieves are looking for easy access. Stolen property from parked vehicles is a weekly occurrence in Clifton, he said. If doors are locked, thieves will usually move on to an easier target where they don’t have to break in. You can further protect yourself by not leaving valuables in your vehicle. Purses, bags, computers, and money should never be left in your car, even if the doors are locked.
If you are the victim of a crime, please report it. Even if the police are unable to locate the perpetrators, reporting it adds to the data the police collect to help them track crime in the area.