No one wants to pick up the telephone and hear, “Your loved one has been in a car accident, and you need to send money for treatment.”
Several East End residents have answered such a call this month, or an even more terrifying variation of it, only to find out that the accident never happened, and the call is a fraud.
Police say these calls are a way to scam unsuspecting residents out of potentially large sums of money by insinuating or even threatening violence against a family member. Last week, six people reported such phone calls throughout Southampton and East Hampton towns, and law enforcement officers are urging residents to be wary whenever any caller asks for, or demands, money.
“You have to resist the urge to act immediately,” said Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa of the Southampton Town Police. “The red flag is when these people start asking for money.”
The first two cases reported to Southampton Town Police were on June 12. In the first incident, reported by a Noyac woman at 11 a.m., the caller said the victim’s sister had been involved in a car accident in which the caller’s nephew was seriously hurt. The caller then said he would hold the sister hostage unless $350 was wired via Western Union into his bank account to pay for medical treatment for the nephew. The woman wired the money before calling the police, who in turn responded to Southampton Hospital—where the sister was found to be safe at work at the hospital. The Noyac woman did not get her money back.
In the second case, at 3 p.m., a man, also from Noyac, told police that he had received a call saying his mother was involved in a car accident involving the caller, but that the caller did not want to get their insurance companies involved. The caller told the victim to get into his car and wait for further instructions about a money transfer. The man hung up the phone and called his mother, who had never left her house that day.
A third case, reported at 5:23 p.m. on Sunday from North Sea, was even more frightening: The caller first said that the victim’s son had been in a car accident, but when the victim did not immediately agree to pay an unspecified amount of money, the caller claimed to have a gun to his son’s head and threatened to shoot the son if the money was not delivered. No money was transacted, and the son was eventually contacted—and, like the other relatives, turned out never to have been in danger at all.
Police in both East Hampton Town and Village received reports of similar calls on June 11 and on the next two days. In all three cases, the caller threatened to hurt or kill a family member of the victim.
In the first, reported at 11:48 a.m. on June 11, a Springs woman was told that the caller needed to speak to her husband because their adult daughter had been in a car accident. Thinking it was the hospital, the woman provided the number. The caller contacted her husband and said he had tied up the daughter and that she would not be released without cash. The husband hung up the phone after contacting his daughter himself while on another line.
At 5:06 p.m. on Wednesday, a woman at work on Newtown Lane in East Hampton Village received a call on her cellphone stating that her brother had been hit over the head with a gun, was unconscious, and was going to be killed unless $300 cash was wired by Western Union to the caller. The woman hung up and immediately called the police, who were able to contact her brother at work.
In the last case, reported at 10:49 a.m. on Thursday, a Springs man told East Hampton Village Police that the caller contacted him on Railroad Avenue to say that the victim’s son was in trouble with narcotics and would be killed without payment. The man immediately told the caller his son was fine and called police.
East Hampton Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen said it is important for anyone who receives a threatening phone call to contact the local police department as soon as possible with as much information as possible. He added that investigating these crimes can be difficult because of the anonymity of the call—in these cases, they have no leads on who made the calls or from where, or why the victims were targeted.
According to Det. Costa, the best thing to do is to remain calm and, if 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. It is also important to never give the caller any personal information—especially a bank account number.
“If you have somebody who you feel is trying to victimize you in this way, you have to resist the urge to act immediately,” she said. “Try to verify the person’s identity by asking questions, and call a family member or your friends that you know are genuine, to try and confirm the story with someone else in your family or circle of friends.”
According to Marsha Kenny, director of public affairs and marketing for Southampton Hospital, hospital personnel will never ask for money or credit card information before treating a patient. She added that if someone claiming to work at any hospital is requesting payment to ensure treatment, it is most likely fraud.
“In the hospital, it does not matter if you have money or insurance,” Ms. Kenny said. “You get treated right away.”
The hospital’s procedure, she added, is for a staff member to call the next of kin if someone is brought in. During the phone call, the staff member will identify themselves as working at Southampton Hospital and will tell the person that an accident has happened and that the victim is being treated at the emergency room. The staff member will explain how to get to the hospital to visit the patient—but will never ask for compensation.
“That is totally fraud,” Ms. Kenny said of the types of calls reported to police. “There will be no reference to money, insurance or credit cards,” she said of the hospital’s policy in emergencies.