A man offering friendly words in a familiar language has been scamming some Harrison residents of Italian descent into handing over cash after claiming to be from the same town as their ancestors, police say.
Harrison police say the man, who is likely in his early 40s, has been knocking on the doors of Harrison homes for at least the last year. From the doorstep, police say the man speaks to the homeowner in Italian and convinces them they share ancestors in Italy.
After establishing a bond, police believe the man eventually asks for about $100 and shows his gratitude by giving them a fake leather jacket that police say is essentially worthless.
About five people have reported the charade to police so far this year, said Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini.
"He preys on people of Italian descent and speaks to them in Italian, which diffuses some senses of suspicion," Marraccini said.
Most of the victims have been older men, living in either West Harrison or downtown Harrison. Police believe the man is picking the homes at random, driving to doorsteps in either a small red car or a gold SUV. The man is described as about 5'10" and 180 pounds with black hair who is fluent in Italian.
Although police have been hearing about these incidents for more than a year, Marraccini said information has been scarse because victims don't realize they have been scammed. Often, he said, the interaction with the man isn't reported until the victims tell their children about the encounter. The children are then the ones who call police, Marraccini said.
The incidents have been spread out over time, but Marraccini said the frequency of reports has recently increased.
"Where we've had one a year (in the past), we've had at least four this year," Marraccini said, adding that it is likely the man is also targeting communities outside of Harrison.
If caught, the man could face a charge of theft by deception. Anyone who encounters the man is urged to call 911.