Archive for the tag 'scams'

Rabbi Yaakov Weingarten

Yaakov Weingarten (Source: vosizneias.com)

A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge ordered Midwood Rabbi Yaakov Weingarten and his wife, Rivka, to pay more than $520,000 for setting up phony not-for-profit organizations claiming to benefit Israel and then using the donations as their personal piggy bank.

The Weingartens were busted last summer, accused of operating a call center out of 1493 Coney Island Avenue in Midwood to raise millions of dollars through 19 separate charities. The scammers claimed the funds would go to programs in Israel or to religious activities. But prosecutors say the charities never existed, and the funds instead went to Weingarten and his family.

Weingarten, 53, withdrew more than $2 million from the charity bank accounts between 2007 and 2013, prosecutors said. They used the funds to pay for mortgages on their two homes, remodeiling expenses, personal vehicles, video rentals, dental visits and even a trip to Borgata Casino in Atlantic City. They attempted to hide their shenanigans by transferring funds between the non-profit accounts. It appears the setup was too difficult for even the Weingartens to keep track of; they bounced more than 2,100 checks, resulting in more than $65,000 in donations being wasted on bank overdraft fees.

On Wednesday, the judge ordered the Weingartens to forfeit $522,315 as part of a civil judgement. Approximately $360,000 of those funds will go to two Israeli charitable organizations that carry out actual programs similar to the ones Weingarten claimed during his phony fundraising pitches to donors: the Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, the preeminent pediatric hospital in Israel, and United Hatzalah of Israel, a leading Israeli volunteer emergency medical services organization.

Weingarten previously pleaded guilty to felony tax fraud, allowing him to escape time behind bars. However, he and his associates, Simon Weiss and David Yifat, are barred from any fundraising or charitable activites in the state of New York. He also faces five years probation, and has already paid $90,685 in restitution as part of the criminal charges.

The judge ordered the dissolution of 11 actual non-profits used by Weingarten, as well as eight that existed in name only. They are as follows:

  • Hatzalah Rescue of Israel, Inc.;
  • Shearim, Inc.;
  • Bnei Torah, Inc.;
  • Chesed L’Yisrael V’Chasdei Yosef, Inc.;
  • Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.;
  • Hatzalah Shomron, Inc.;
  • Pulse Foundation, Inc.;
  • Agudath Chesed Bikur Cholim Israel, Inc.;
  • Kupat Reb Meir Baal Haness Bnei Torah Eretz Yisrael, Inc.;
  • Congregation Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.;
  • Shearim Hayad L’Torah Center for Hatzalah L’Shabbat and Chesed L’Yisrael, Inc.;
  • Israel Emergency Center;
  • Magen Israel;
  • Hayad Victim Assistance Fund;
  • Lmaan Hatorah;
  • Our Children;
  • Zaka Israel;
  • Yaldel Simcha Yisrael;
  • Yad Yisrael.

“We are committed to fighting to protect everyday New Yorkers, particularly those who want to use some of their hard-earned money to support charitable causes, because there has to be one set of rules for everyone,” Attorney General Schneiderman said via press release. “My office will use all the tools at our disposal to protect New Yorkers from unscrupulous fundraisers for sham charities.”

ezpass

The MTA is warning E-ZPass users of a new e-mail phishing scam that has surfaced, in which digital con artists attempt to get at your private data by warning of phony unpaid tolls.

Phishing scams attempt to dupe users to send the scammer sensitive information, including usernames, passwords or banking information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity.

Scam artists are sending out official looking e-mails carrying the E-ZPass logo, often from an e-mail account that appears to be connected to the service. A screenshot of the e-mail is shown above, stating that the user has not paid for driving on a toll road and that previous invoices have not been responded to. It provides a link to download the invoice.

In reality, the E-ZPass Service Center does not send out e-mail invoices for payments. All bills are sent through the United States Postal Service. The e-mails are not authorized by E-ZPass, MTA Bridges and Tunnels or any other toll agency associated with the service.

The agency is advising customers not to open or respond such e-mail, and instead send them straight to the trash bin. If you think you may have a legitimate e-mail from E-ZPass and want confirmation before opening it, you can call the E-ZPass New York Customer Service Center at (800) 333-8655.

The following is a press release from the MTA:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is reminding customers that if they have lost an item on a train or bus, or at a station, they can submit a lost property claim free of charge and directly to the MTA online, by phone, or in person. There is no charge for submitting a lost property claim to the MTA’s lost and found offices.

Recently, MTA customers have complained that online searches have directed them to an official-looking website, www.lostpropertynyc.com, which asks for personal information, then uses that information to generate a bill to be paid online by credit card.

The website implies that it contacts the MTA on behalf of the customers seeking lost property. However, the MTA’s lost and found offices do not do business with lostpropertynyc.com or any other third party company claiming to act on behalf of people who have reported lost items. The MTA’s lost and found offices return lost items only to those claimants who can identify that they are the rightful owners of the property.

“Anyone looking to submit a claim for lost property needs to go through the MTA’s official website,” said MTA Police Chief Michael Coan. “There is no charge to submit a claim to any of the MTA’s lost and found units.”

The MTA Police Department has launched a criminal investigation into the website. Because the website is also soliciting information from taxi and airport customers, and the MTA has notified the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The MTA’s lost and found offices are accessible from this web page: http://web.mta.info/mta/lost_found.html

The MTA maintains three units that serve as repositories for personal items that are left on trains and buses, or at stations. MTA New York City Transit’s Lost Property Unit, located at the 34th Street-Penn Station stop on the ACE lines, handles items left on the New York City Subway, New York City Buses, and Staten Island Railway. MTA Long Island Rail Road has a lost and found office in Penn Station, and MTA Metro-North Railroad has a lost and found office at Grand Central Terminal.

In 2013, the MTA’s lost and found offices received 67,320 lost items, and returned 34,572 of them to their owners while fielding more than 73,000 queries about lost items from customers.

morales

Police say they’ve caught the man responsible for a pair of burglaries in Brighton Beach that targeted the elderly.

We first told you about the hunt for the perp on January 24, writing that cops were seeking a suspect in two burglaries in which the perpetrator gained the confidence of his victims before stealing their cash and jewelry.

Now they’ve arrested Salvador Morales, 58, of Washington Heights, and charged him with burglary, grand larceny and criminal possession on Friday.

In the two incidents, Morales allegedly followed the seniors to their buildings in Brighton Beach.

NBC reports:

[Morales] told them he was their upstairs neighbor and that water was leaking from his unit into their apartment, according to police.

He said he wanted to inspect the damage so he could pay for them, police said. He then asked the victims for change for a $100 bill so he could leave $50. While in the apartment, he took jewelry and money.

The victims include an 89-year-old woman robbed on December 24 and an 88-year-old woman this past Sunday. The suspect took about $2,400 in cash and several items of jewelry from both. No one was hurt.

Source: wmfawmfa/Flickr

Area resident Petr Murmylyuk was sentenced to 30 months in prison for conspiring to hack into retail brokerage accounts and execute sham trades, the U.S. Attorney announced on Friday.

Murmylyuk, who also went by the name Dmitry Tokar, pleaded guilty in July 2013 to charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. He had previously pleaded guilty to charges of identity theft and tax fraud for a separate but related scheme.

According to prosecutors, Murmylyuk admitted to his role in conspiring to steal from online trading accounts at Scottrade, E*Trade, Fidelity and others wit the aid of foreign nations visiting, studying and living in the United States.

Here’s how the scheme went down, according to prosecutors:

Members of the conspiracy first gained unauthorized access to the online accounts of brokerage firm customers. The conspirators then used stolen identities to open additional accounts – referred to in the Information as “Profit Accounts” – at other brokerage houses. They then caused the victims’ accounts to make unprofitable and illogical securities trades with the Profit Accounts, leading to losses in the victims’ accounts and gains in the Profit Accounts. One version of the fraud involved causing the victims’ accounts to sell options contracts to the Profit Accounts, then to purchase the same contracts back minutes later for many times the price.

The members of the conspiracy recruited foreign nationals visiting, studying, and living in the United States to open bank accounts into which illegal proceeds could be deposited. The conspirators then caused the proceeds of the sham trades to be transferred from the Profit Accounts into those accounts, where the stolen money could be withdrawn.

In addition to the prison term, Murmylyuk is ordered to serve three years of supervised release, and pay restitution of $505,357.79.

suspect

Police are looking for help tracking down a suspect in a rash of Brighton Beach burglaries in which the suspect gains the confidence of his victims before making off with cash and jewelry.

CBS reports:

Police said the suspect followed the residents into their apartment buildings, telling them he is their upstairs neighbor and that water from his apartment was leaking into theirs, police said.

The suspect then tells the victims that he wants to inspect the damage and will pay for it, police said.

He asks the victims for change for a $100 bill so he can give them $50 for the damage, then goes through their apartments taking jewelry and money, police said.

The victims include an 89-year-old woman robbed on December 24 and an 88-year-old woman this past Sunday. The suspect took about $2,400 in cash and several items of jewelry from both.

Police say the suspect is a white male last seen wearing sunglasses, a ski hat and a waist-length jacket. He may speak Russian.

Below is surveillance video released by the NYPD:

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto Crime Stoppers’ website or by texting their tips to CRIMES (274637), then entering TIP577.

nypd-flier

The New York Police Department is circulating the above flier to local civic groups and political offices in an effort to quash a new telephone scam.

According to the flier, victims are receiving phone calls from someone claiming to be a relative in need of bail money, or even a kidnapper demanding ransom.

While it might seem like a “duh” to most of us, the fact is that scam artists are good at what they do and manipulate their marks by preying on their emotions and confusion. Stay calm when on the phone, and never wire money in a panic.

If you receive a call that seems suspicious, hang up and call 911.

Honoring real survivors at a Holocaust Memorial Park ceremony. Photo by Erica Sherman

The ringleader of a $57.3 million fraud scheme that siphoned money from of a Holocaust reparations fund was sentenced to eight years behind bars yesterday, announced United States Attorney Preet Bharara.

Semen Domnitser played a pivotal role in the scheme, prosecutors say, having worked as a caseworker and program director that processed the fraudulent applications in return for kickbacks. Domnitser gave his seal of approval to ineligible recipients, many of whom were born after World War II and at least one that was not even Jewish.

In addition to eight years in prison, Domnitser was sentenced to three years of supervised release, ordered to forfeit $59,230 and pay restitution in the amount of $57.3 million.

“As the highest ranking insider to participate in this despicable fraud against the Holocaust Claims Conference, Mr. Domnitser played an integral role in the scheme by processing fraudulent applications to the Conference and turning a profit of thousands of dollars for himself,” said Bharara in a press release. “With today’s sentence, he will be held to account for victimizing Holocaust survivors by diverting funds meant to help them to his own pocket and contributing to this $57 million scheme.”

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Yeah, screw Canada. (Source: mezzoblue/Flickr)

BETWEEN THE LINES: In conjunction with occasional Sheepshead Bites postings of Crime Prevention Tips from the NYPD’s 61st Precinct, here’s my tale of identity theft.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Whoever said it was wisely precautious and I nearly found out how accurate that phrase is.

Someone with my fundamental awareness of ID theft tricks, telemarketing and sweepstakes scams and other forms of electronic exploitation, as well as a prior victimization, should never fall for a second scam. But, to paraphrase that insufferable pop song — oops, I almost did it again.

Nonetheless, anxiety, and an opportunity for supplemental income, almost led me into a fraudulent business relationship. Before I made any commitment or revealed too much personal information, I realized it was a rip off-in-progress, parallel to the notorious Nigerian money transfer scam. Ultimately, common sense, a little savvy, and advice from a friend triggered internal red flags and taught me an indispensable lesson without any loss.

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Photo by Erica Sherman

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (Photo by Erica Sherman)

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz is asking residents to be on guard in light of a rash of apartment rental scams plaguing the city. According to a press release, Cymbrowitz described the common scam and provided tips to avoid being victimized by them.

The legion of scam artists perpetrating real estate rental scams are growing. Since January, 211 complaints have been filed in the state regarding apartment information vendors and shady real estate agent operators. Of those complaints, 121 were from New York City. Cymbrowitz described how the scam, which predominantly targets first time renters and immigrants, works:

Many of the scammers will pose as real estate agents or “apartment hunters” who offer to work with a prospective tenant to locate an apartment. These individuals will demand that consumers pay money up-front in the form of a deposit, fee and/or first month’s rent before attempting to secure an apartment. They will often pressure the victim by appealing to their sense of urgency or special circumstances. Once the money is handed over, the scammer usually has no intention of following through or helping the tenant secure an apartment, and refuses to return the consumer’s deposit. Many consumers will simply accept the loss and move on for fear they will be singled out or because they are not familiar with the particulars of real estate transactions.

In order to help people victimized by apartment rental scams, Cymbrowitz listed the following checklist to help renters, as well as remind them of their rights:

  • Check if the real estate agent or apartment information vendor is licensed in the State of New York. Visit https://appext20.dos.ny.gov/nydos/selSearchType.do and enter the name of the person or business, or call (518) 474-4429. In New York State, all real estate professionals must be licensed by the Department of State, and must renew their license(s) every two years. Do not rely solely on a person’s testimony, business cards or advertisement.
  • Under no circumstances should you be required to pay an up-front payment or fee before securing an apartment. Do not be persuaded by anyone pressuring you to pay money up front.
  • Non-refundable commission deposits are not permissible. An agent earns a commission when he or she assists the landlord and tenant in reaching an agreement on all of the terms of the apartment rental.
  • Commission fees are negotiable. You have the right to negotiate the amount of the commission to be paid to a broker or salesperson. There is no such a thing as a mandatory commission rate.
  • Make sure the property you are interested in is legitimately for rent. Many scammers act as representatives of real estate that is not on the market or does not exist.
  • Remember to obtain a receipt for any deposit or payment you make. If an agent collects fees that you owe to the landlord, such as a deposit or the first month’s rent, the agent has an obligation to separate that money from his or her own. If the money is not immediately provided to the landlord, the agent must put the money into a separate escrow account until the transaction has been closed. If the transaction does not close, the agent cannot keep the money for him or herself and must return it to you.
  • Avoid making payments or deposits with cash. It is always better to leave a paper trail by using a credit card or a personal check. Make sure to save a copy of the payment for your own records.
  • Ask for copies of all documents: checks, money orders, the application, receipts, the lease and any other document related to your apartment rental and keep them in a secure location in case they are needed to dispute a charge.

Searching for a new apartment is often a nightmarish experience. When trying to find a place, I recommend that you enlist as much help as possible from family and friends, especially if you are new to renting. Also, in doing your research, be wary of places that seem too good to be true from sellers who are desperate to make a quick deal. Like Cymbrowitz says, make sure to get copies of everything to create a long paper trail for your own records and above all, never be pressured into making a decision on the spot without having checked out all the facts of the place in question.

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