By Joe Anuta
Groups of con artists have recently been duping northeast Queens residents out of cash in person and over the phone, the 109th Precinct warned this week.
A band of thieves have hit shoppers at Jetro Cash and Carry, on 132nd Street in College Point, five times over the last three weeks, according to Inspector Brian Maguire, commanding officer at the stationhouse.
“Once people realize this is going on, they will hopefully use more caution,” he said at a Monday news conference.
The latest incident happened Saturday, when the crew waited in the parking lot for a 37-year-old woman coming out of the wholesale goods store and rammed a shopping cart into the back of her car, police at the precinct said.
When the woman got out to investigate the damage, a second man stole her pocketbook out of the front seat, making off with her credit cards, green card and driver’s license, according to the 109th.
The same group of three to five men also pulled variations of the stunt June 14, 15, 20 and 28, according to police.
“They use different kind of ruses to get people out of the car,” Maguire said.
In some cases, they ask for directions or engage shoppers in conversation to create a diversion while an accomplice rifles through the front seat before fleeing in a variety of vehicles, including two minivans, maroon and tan in color, and a white Nissan Sentra, Maguire said.
The crew targeted Asian women between the ages of 30 to 50 who were shopping alone in each instance, according to the inspector, who added that Jetro is frequented by business owners who potential criminals may believe carry large amounts of cash.
Maguire urged Queens shoppers to always carry their pocketbooks on them, slung securely across their shoulders to prevent theft, and not to leave any valuables unattended.
The crew also hit the parking lot of BJ’s Wholesale Club in the College Point Shopping Center June 23. A similar but possibly unrelated incident ended in an arrest at a BP gas station on College Point Boulevard near Avery Avenue over the weekend.
Officers detailed another scheme taking place over the phone lines.
A Main Street restaurateur received a phone call Saturday afternoon from someone purporting to be a Consolidated Edison bill collector, police said.
The phony operator transferred the business owner to a second person who gave instructions on how to purchase a prepaid card and pay up, police said.
The cards are called Green Dot or MoneyPak cards, which can be topped up with various amounts of cash to be used for electronic transactions, and are common prey for swindlers.
“If you give your MoneyPak number or information about the purchase transaction to a criminal, Green Dot is not responsible for paying you back. Your MoneyPak is not a bank account. The funds are not insured against loss,” the site states.
Maguire cautioned residents, especially the elderly, to be wary of anyone claiming to be from a utility company and asking for money over the phone or in person.
The precinct also released a Wall of Shame, which features surveillance footage of some of downtown Flushing’s most prolific alleged thieves. Although the area is predominately made up of Asian residents, Maguire said these suspects come from every walk of life.
“It’s like the United Nations of crime perpetrators down there,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.