Residents across the South Fork this spring and summer have been victims of a new kind of phone scam – one where callers are led to believe a relative’s life may hang in the balance unless they part with large sums of money.
Since early this spring, police departments in East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Southampton have received dozens of reports of these menacing phone calls. This week alone, the East Hampton Town Police Department reported eight incidences filed in the last month featuring this new phone scam. The Southampton Police Department received complaints from three individuals targeted in the scheme this week.
And they are not alone.
While rampant throughout Suffolk County and Long Island, according to the U.S. Department of State it is a national epidemic that originally targeted the elderly.
In April, the departments sent out a warning nationwide about the emergence of the “grandparent scam,” the earliest embodiment of the kind of threatening phone calls residents have been receiving locally.
In these types of scams, the perpetrator often calls a grandparent or other relative pretending to be a grandchild or other young relative. The caller is upset, typically short on time, and usually relates that they are traveling in another country and were in an accident or ran into legal trouble. They ask for money to be wired to a Western Union account to escape the situation as soon as possible.
According to the Department of State, requested sums of money vary from a few hundred to several thousand dollars and occasionally a second caller will contact the victim posing as law enforcement or as an attorney requesting more money.
Locally, the scam has been modified into something far more threatening, known as the “hostage scam.”
In most of the calls received locally, the caller makes threats against a family member – in some cases life threatening – who has been involved in an accident of some kind unless the victim is willing to give over large sums of money through a wire transfer to places like Puerto Rico, although in some cases the caller requests the victim meet them in another county to drop off the money.
This week, on July 4, a Sag Harbor resident contacted town police to report a caller who reached out to her for money, stating he was holding her father at gunpoint. She reached out to her father, who was safe. Also on July 4, a Southampton resident reported receiving a call from a man demanding $1,000, stating her son was being held at gunpoint. The man had a Spanish accent, the victim said. A North Sea resident contacted police on July 5 to report someone tried to scam him out of $3,000. According to the resident, the caller said if he was not paid the money, his brother would be shot.
In East Hampton, an Amagansett woman reported receiving a call on June 14 from a caller speaking in Spanish, asking her to wire $1,500 or her boyfriend would be hurt. When she reached out to her boyfriend, he was fine. On July 1, an East Hampton man reported his mother was targeted by a caller who said her son was in an accident and the occupants of the other car had broken his leg and arm. The caller demanded $1,500 dollars, which was to be brought to a specific place, or he threatened to shoot her son. The perpetrator spoke in Spanish. On July 2, another caller speaking in Spanish called an East Hampton resident asking for $2,500 to get his brother out of trouble. Also on July 2, a woman contacted police about a call she received from a man, possibly from Puerto Rico, was said her son was in an accident and she needed to send money to him right away. Both the woman’s sons were contacted and were okay. A Montauk woman was also called on July 2 by a man speaking Spanish who said if she didn’t send him $1,000 he would kill her son. The caller knew her son’s name, but when she reached out to him, he was fine. In another incident, a Montauk woman said she was contacted by someone demanding money to release a kidnapped brother. The caller, she said, knew a lot of information about her family.
The towns are not alone. Both East Hampton and Sag Harbor villages have also reported similar scams in the last month.
The last scam reported in Sag Harbor was on June 18. According to the incident report, a Hillside Drive West resident was contacted and told her son had been abducted from the North Sea area. The caller stated her brother and son – driving the son’s white BMW – was in an accident and her son sustained a broken arm. If she did not immediately wire money to a Puerto Rico account, the caller threatened to kill her son. The woman’s brother and son were contacted and were fine.
While no one has followed through with wiring money to the perpetrator(s), the Southampton Town Police Department did issue a warning to residents last month to be aware these scams are increasing across the East End.
“Detectives throughout the five East End Townships are investigating numerous similar incidents in their jurisdictions,” reads the release. “The Southampton Town Police Department Detective Division is releasing the advisory and urge the community not to dismiss these threats, however, do not send money or provide any personal information to them. Document the number the phone call is coming from, and make immediate notification to 911 for further direction.”
Anyone with information related to this, or any other crime, is also encouraged to contact the department at 728-5000 or the detective’s units at 702-2230. All calls will be kept confidential.