Two Middlesex County residents were arrested on November 18 and charged with taking part in a nationwide ring that scammed 19 senior citizens out of cash totaling $45,500, according to Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey.
The two individuals identified as Erica Puello, 25, of Old Bridge and Amaury Fernandez, 24, of North Brunswick, were arrested and charged with theft by deception and conspiring to commit theft by deception.
Detective Christopher Pennisi and members of the Elder Abuse and Exploitation Team of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office arrested the defendants during an intensive investigation.
The investigation determined that the defendants were part of a ring that cheated the victims out of various sums of cash by making bogus phone calls, posing as relatives, friends or attorneys who needed money wired to them quickly.
In one instance, representatives of Western Union recognized the scam and warned the customer, who rejected the warning and went to MoneyGram to complete the monetary transaction.
The scam was based in New Jersey and cheated residents living in New Jersey, as well as residents in Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, Illinois, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington, D.C.
Each of the defendants was cheated out of sums ranging from $1,000 to $5,500 during the scam, which was operating between September 2015 and July 2016.
Detective Dennis Donovan of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office initially uncovered the scam when a Maryland resident reported he had been cheated. The case was referred to Middlesex County after it was determined that Middlesex County residents were committing the crimes in Middlesex County.
“The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, through its Elder Abuse and Exploitation Team, will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute scammers who prey on the vulnerable. These arrests are a result of one of several new and wide-ranging investigations conducted by the team,” Prosecutor Carey said. “Furthermore, I would like to thank Acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park and her detectives for their diligence and cooperation in this matter.”
People who receive phone calls seeking money should verify the legitimacy of the call by contacting police from the location of the supposed emergency, or by contacting other friends or relatives who can verify the caller’s information. In past cases, scams were foiled when potential victims contacted the real person whose name was being used by the scammers, and quickly realized the real person was safe at home.
The investigation is active and is continuing. Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Pennisi of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office at (732) 745-3300. As is the case with all criminal defendants, the charges against these three individuals are merely accusations and they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.