Rats! New Yorker charged with vermin control scam

October 20, 2016 8:16 PM EDT

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By David Ingram

NEW YORK (Reuters) - There are a lot of vermin in New York City, but this time some people didn't smell the rat.

Some 101 unsuspecting residents and property owners this year fell for a scam when they got a notice in the mail saying they were in violation of the city's vermin control regulations and owed $120, authorities said on Thursday.

The mailing was convincing enough to get the people to pay, but it was really a fraud by a 31-year-old man from the borough of Queens with a rented post office box, authorities said.

The man, Myong Hwan Han, also known as David Han, is charged with mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud, according to a criminal complaint signed by a postal inspector and filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

A lawyer for Han could not immediately be reached for comment.

The city issued a news release Sept. 2 warning of a scam, and on Sept. 15, two postal inspectors interviewed Han after he walked into a Queens post office and asked for his mail, the complaint said.

New York City has a horrific rodent problem, with 2 million rats according to a 2014 estimate by a Columbia University doctoral student. Last year, a video showing a rat carrying a slice of pizza went viral.

Around April, Han and an unnamed co-conspirator had a print shop make 10,000 copies of the mailing, which had a health department logo, a city commissioner's signature and a nonexistent address, according to the criminal complaint.

"This violation cannot be contested or challenged," the mailing said, and it directed payment by check or money order to Vermin Control of New York, the complaint said.

One New York City property owner living in Connecticut tried to call a number listed on the mailing before sending a check, but it was always busy, the complaint said.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)



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