Beware of scammers

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Beware of scammers

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
3/14/2019


SUFFOLK COUNTY—Authorities recently announced they were investigating an incident where individuals, claiming to be from the United States Social Security Administration, scammed a Suffolk resident out of over $1,000.

Wayne Chertoff, 67, from Melville, received a phone call on Feb. 28 from a woman who said she worked for the SSA and there was a warrant out for his arrest in Texas, authorities wrote in a statement. The woman told Chertoff he could clear up the warrant if he purchased a Google Play card in the amount of $500 and provided the caller with the card number. 

The following day, Chertoff received another call, this time from a man, who reiterated the warrant information and requested Chertoff purchase two Google Play cards, one for $400 and one for $500, authorities wrote in the statement. Chertoff provided the caller with the card numbers. 

Both calls showed “Social Security” on Chertoff’s caller ID with a legitimate telephone number for the United States Social Security Administration, according to authorities. The callers used spoofing software to make the calls appear as though they were coming from a legitimate source, authorities added. 

Chertoff’s case, however, is just one of the many scams to which people are falling victim. This publication reports on similar scams that occur locally, nearly every week, in the blotter section of our print edition. 

One such incident involved an Islip Terrace resident who reported to authorities, on March 4, that someone claiming to be from the U.S. Marshals Service called and said there was a warrant out for their arrest in Texas. The victim was then instructed to send Google Play cards in order to clear their name. They ultimately complied. 

Another local incident involved a Bohemia resident who reported to authorities, on March 4, that someone claiming to be from PSEG called and said they would shut off their power unless they sent four MoneyPak gift cards. The victim complied and lost over $1,000 in the scam. 

The Suffolk County Police Department stressed the fact that neither government agencies nor utility companies will ask for payment of fees, fines or bills via prepaid gift cards. 

PSEG Long Island recently spoke to a group of seniors at the Great South Bay YMCA in Bay Shore, where they warned them about increasingly sophisticated scams that are being used to target customers.  

In 2018, more than 4,088 scams were reported to PSEG Long Island, a 75 percent increase from 2017, according to the energy company’s numbers. In total, PSEG has received reports of more than 10,000 scams over the past five years, with a 6 percent victim rate. 

PSEG also asks customers to be aware of email scams and unannounced in-person visits, as there have been reports of scammers pretending to be company solicitors in order to gain access to people’s homes and steal items. As for email scams, PSEG doesn’t ask customers to provide personal information online without first logging into their personal account. 

Last year, the Arkansas-based telecommunications firm, First Orion, released a report on what they refer to as an “epidemic” of phone call scams taking place throughout the county. The report, which analyzed data from over 50 billion calls over an 18-month period, found that mobile phone scam calls are on the rise. Only 3.7 percent of calls to cell phones were fraudulent in 2017. This number increased to 29.2 percent last year and is expected to reach 44.6 percent by the end of this year. 

The report also found that fraudulent landline calls are decreasing. Only 24.8 percent of scam calls are expected to come from landlines this year, as opposed to 56 percent in 2017. The report notes this shift is largely due to fewer people using landlines. 

In addition, the report makes reference to “neighborhood spoofing,” a tactic where a scammer disguises their phone number and displays it as a local number on the would-be victim’s caller ID. This increases the likelihood that the person receiving the call will respond. 

However, it appears that millennials are more likely to become victims of phone scams than seniors. 

In a survey from 2017, First Orion also found that people in their 20s and early 30s are six times more likely than baby boomers to disclose personal information to scammers who are able to verify the last four digits of their Social Security number. The study, which surveyed 1,000 mobile phone users, also found that three times as many millennials have experienced a financial loss from a scam when compared to baby boomers. 

The Federal Trade Commission reported last year that the average loss from a phone-based scam was $720 in 2017. 

First Orion’s 2017 survey found that 40 percent of people between 20 and 29 years old who went to the FTC about being contacted by a scammer lost money, as opposed to 18 percent of people aged 70 years or older. The study also found that 32 percent of the millennials surveyed said they would talk on the phone with someone claiming to be an IRS agent, despite the fact that the IRS doesn’t call individuals.