North Reading Police are seeking to identify this man as a suspected scammer who duped a local babysitter out of hundreds of dollars. (North Reading Police Department/Courtesy Photo)

NORTH READING — Chief Michael P. Murphy and the North Reading Police Department are alerting the community and asking for the public’s assistance after an alleged con man scammed a local babysitter out of hundreds of dollars via a gift card scam.

On Friday, July 26, a 19-year-old Beverly woman babysat a 9-year-old girl after the woman was contacted by a man, purporting to be the girl’s father, requesting babysitting services. The woman babysits for multiple local families and it is not unusual for her clients to give out her number

The woman met the man outside a home in North Reading. When she arrived, there were two dogs running around the yard as well as the man and a young girl. The victim watched the girl for approximately three hours, taking her to a Dunkin Donuts and a nearby park, before returning the girl to the man at the same house. The man wrote her two checks, totaling $3,360 and instructed her to deposit the checks using mobile deposit on her phone before taking the physical checks with him.

The man, who identified himself as David, later called the woman back stating that he paid her too much and instructed her to purchase iTunes gift cards and read the numbers off to him to pay back the balance.

The woman went to a local store, purchased the $500 in gift cards, maximizing her daily spending limit on her debit card. She gave “David” the numbers. Later on, the checks the victim had previously deposited bounced due to insufficient funds.

The suspect aggressively tried to get the victim to buy more gift cards and he allegedly became angry when she explained that she reached her spending limit, at one point threatening the victim.

The victim filed a police report and the North Reading Police Department has initiated an investigation.

The suspect is described as a Hispanic male who spoke with a pronounced accent. The 9-year-old who the suspect identified as “Ali” is described as 4′ to 4’6″ girl with a heavy build. She did not speak with any accent. The suspect may have two German Shepherds and may be operating a late model “boxy” Honda Pilot type sport utility vehicle with suitcases and duffel bags piled up in the back seat.

The home where the victim met the suspect and the girl was in foreclosure and is unoccupied. During the pickup and drop off, the suspect met the victim outside the home and he was never seen going inside.

The use of an unoccupied home, a child, dogs and a vehicle parked in the driveway were all part of an elaborate, planned out scam.

North Reading Police are concerned for the welfare of the child used in the scam. Police are working with law enforcement partners in an attempt to locate the suspect and the 9 year old girl.

“This is a deeply disturbing and unfortunate real-world scam situation. In recent years, we have seen countless examples of these scams and cons executed online and via telephone, but rarely do citizens encounter a brazen scammer in-person,” Chief Murphy said. “Thankfully, the bank’s withdrawal limit on the victim’s account likely saved her thousands of dollars in lost funds. Most disturbing to me is the suspect using a 9 year-old-child to help facilitate the scam. We’re hopeful that someone from the public recognizes the photo of the suspect so that we can make sure that the child is safe.”

The North Reading Police Department renews its warning to never give a pre-paid debit card or gift card number to a stranger. Pre-paid debit cards and gift cards are not legitimate ways to pay for goods and services. They are as good as cash to the extent that, once funds are transferred the money cannot be recovered, and the victims lose their money forever.

Citizens should also be extremely suspicious of anything that appears “too good to be true” such as a person offering to dramatically overpay for goods or services. Due diligence is also recommended when accepting a personal check from someone, especially someone you do not know well.

If anyone recognizes the suspect pictured above, has any information about this case or has been likewise contacted in a similar manner, they are asked to contact the North Reading Police Department at 978-664-3131.