Southampton Town Police are still investigating a series of phone calls to random residents threatening violence and demanding money—more incidents of which were reported this week.
The phone calls started in the beginning of June in Southampton Town, according to police. The caller, whom most victims describe as sounding Hispanic, typically tells the victim that a family member has been involved in an accident that damaged the caller’s car. The caller threatens to shoot the relative unless a certain amount of money is delivered.
The calls have been consistent in Southampton Town, with four reported in the last few weeks, and there have also been several calls, believed to be from the same person, in East Hampton Town. Detectives from both police forces said the incidents are particularly difficult to investigate because the callers are anonymous.
“It is an ongoing investigation,” Southampton Town Police Sergeant William Kiernan said this week.
Typically, victims are not given a way to call back, and the number that comes up on caller ID seems not to exist.
According to East Hampton Town Police Detective Sergeant Robert Gurney, the caller will ask his victim questions at the beginning of the conversation. “It’s a fishing expedition,” he said. “If they’re fishing for information, that should heighten your awareness.”
Det. Sgt. Gurney said that sometimes the caller demands that the money be wired to an address in Puerto Rico, and at other times that victims meet him in person to hand over the money. “Some indicate a local drop-off, which piques our interest,” he said, noting that so far no one has complied. “That means they’re not great at it, I’ll tell you that.”
He said Suffolk County is getting hit hard by the scam, but that it is widespread across Long Island.
According to police reports, in most Southampton Town instances the calls also have been unsuccessful, and victims have terminated the call before giving any private information. In all cases, the threatened relative was found not to have been in any harm.
On July 4, a Southampton woman told police that just before 4 p.m., while at the Macy’s on Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays, she received a call from a Hispanic man claiming to be holding her son at gunpoint following an accident. The woman asked the caller several questions about her son that the caller could not answer, and he hung up the phone.
On July 3, a Sag Harbor woman told police that earlier that morning she had received a call, also from a Hispanic-sounding man, saying her father had been in a car accident and was being held at gunpoint. The caller demanded several thousand dollars for his safe return. The woman attempted to make arrangements to give him the money, but when she called the designated number, it was out of service. After several attempts she called police, who were able to contact her father.
According to Southampton Town Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa, the best thing to do is remain calm. She advised people who are unsure whether a call is a scam to ask as many questions as possible to ascertain specifics. A professional con artist will have a quick answer for everything, but will be as vague as possible, police said. It is also important to never give the caller any personal information—especially a bank account number.
Southampton Town Police are investigating a recent incident in which money was transferred to a caller under somewhat different circumstances. On July 4, a Flanders deli owner told police that his employee had paid over $4,000 in company money to a caller. According to a police report, the worker received the a call at 2:24 p.m. on July 2 from a person claiming to be from MoneyGram. The caller said the Flanders Road deli owed several thousand dollars to the company that needed to be paid immediately. The employee authorized six transactions totaling $4,655.34.
The owner of the store told police that his company does not owe any money to MoneyGram and that if it did, it would have been paid through automatic bill pay. The employee told police he believed the scam was real because the caller ID came up as “Western Union.”
In the other three incidents reported between July 2 and 5, the victims hung up the phone before money could be transferred. On Friday, a woman living on Cove Road in North Sea told Southampton Town Police that at 3 p.m. she received a call from a Hispanic man saying that her brother was involved in a car accident and would be shot if she did not wire $3,000.
The woman was on the phone with the suspect for approximately 50 minutes while at the same time contacting her brother, who was never in danger, according to authorities.