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Police: Scammer Preyed On Immigrants

By Meghan Pinkley
By mpinkley@wbbjtv.com

A man was arrested after being accused of scaring families into giving him tens of thousands of dollars.

Investigators said he preyed on immigrant families with loved ones in local jails, by using information from those jails and the public information they had on their department website.

One phone call changed how Rosa Benitz felt about answering her cell phone. "There's like this fear now, like if I do this, what if I get ripped off again," said Benitz.

Newbern Police said Benitz was a victim of a very good scam.

"She made contact back and forth with this guy by phone," said Inv. Rodney Wright.

Joseph Demaio was accused of posing as a homeland security agent, calling individuals who were about to have a loved one deported, and promising that wouldn't happen, for a small fee.

"I was like, when I send the money if he's going to get out? He's like yea, he's going to get out, and if you don't do anything today, he's going to get deported," stated Benitz.

"He solicited her for about $1,200 and told her that that would post her bond and asked her to send him that by Western Union," said Inv. Wright.

Benitz said that the scammer said he was going to meet her at 3 o'clock at the Dyer County Jail. She said her and friends waited and waited but he never showed up.

Inv. Wright said Demaio was doing this all over middle Tennessee just 2 months ago. Netting more than $20,000 in a month.

"When we're thinking of getting him out there's no barrier, it's like you just want to get him out, it doesn't matter how much money it is," said Benitz.

Benitz was baffled by how Demaio got her phone number. Inv. Wright believed he called jails posing as an immigration agent or getting on their websites, to get enough information on the inmate to convince their families he was legitimate.

"We're just going to have to figure out some way to be able to really protect that information," added Inv. Wright.

Inv. Wright said the Dyer County Jail was looking into ways to identify actual law enforcement officials over the phone versus someone posing as an officer, so scams like this can be stopped.
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