Spanish-speaking residents of East Hampton Town seem to be bearing the brunt of a phone scam that has been frightening people right and left for the past five months, according to East Hampton Town Police.
In the past two weeks, there were at least eight reports of disturbing phone calls in which a caller tried to scam residents out of potentially large sums of money by insinuating, or even threatening, violence against a family member.
Town Police Detective Sergeant Robert Gurney said while the elderly started out as the target of a similar scam in the winter, the perpetrators have now homed in on the Latino community. He said he doesn’t know why, but that it could be because there might be a language barrier stopping some victims from calling the police.
Typically, once a victim consents to the caller’s wishes, he will call back later about where to send the money. The victims are not given a way to call back, and usually the number that comes up on caller ID is a transfer number that seems not to exist.
Det. Sgt. Gurney said 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 some callers request that the money be wired to an address in Puerto Rico, and others request that victims meet them in town 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 while Suffolk County is getting hit hardest, it is widespread across Long Island.
Southampton Town has also been plagued with phone scams—just this week last five calls were reported to Southampton Town Police.
In East Hampton Town eight reports came through in the last two weeks.
On July 1, a man reported that a scammer called his mother at 3 p.m. that day and told her that her son was involved in a car accident and that the two people in the other car got out and broke his arm and leg. He told her to bring $1,500 to a certain location or they would shoot her son in the head. The woman’s husband took the phone and told the caller he didn’t believe what the caller was saying and hung up. The woman’s son told police the caller was speaking Spanish because his mother does not speak English.
Another man reported on July 2 that a caller told him in Spanish that if he didn’t send $2,500 his brother would be in trouble. The man told police that he found out that his brother was OK. No information was given about where to send the money.
In another, more threatening incident on July 2, a man called a Montauk woman and told her he was going to kill her son if she didn’t send him $1,000. The woman said the man had asked her what her son’s name was and she told him. When she called her son he told her he was OK. She told police the caller only spoke in Spanish.
On July 3 a man visited headquarters to tell police that a caller had told him in Spanish that his brother was in an accident and that $2,500 needed to be sent in compensation for damages. The man called his brother, who was unharmed and had not been involved in an accident.
In Montauk, a woman told police through a translator on July 7 that she had a call earlier that day from a man demanding money to release her kidnapped brother. She said that she believed the caller may be in the East Hampton Town area because he knew so much information about her.
Similarly, a man told police that while in Montauk on Friday he got a call from a stranger who said he had the man’s son at gunpoint and would harm him unless he turned over cash in exchange—his son was OK.
Detective Steve Sheades of the East Hampton Village Police said that about a dozen calls have been reported to Village Police in the last month, and that one of the people called nearly turned over money. The victim was in the process of wiring money from Waldbaum’s on Newtown Lane when police were alerted. Now, at the Waldbaum’s customer service desk there are pamphlets warning customers about phone scams, according to Det. Sheades.
When threatening phone calls are received, police suggest first reaching out to the family member in question to determine their whereabouts and well-being, and then promptly calling police.
“A lot of people confirm things they shouldn’t or provide information to callers that they shouldn’t,” Det. Sgt. Gurney said. “Anything that doesn’t sound right, give us a call.”