Editorial: Attend this Southold Town forum to learn about identity theft

Nearly every week, our police blotter includes accounts of various scams that target the vulnerable and result in financial loss.

Many of these scams are truly horrific, such as those in which an elderly victim is told that a grandchild has been kidnapped and a ransom must be sent immediately, or that a loved one needs bail money or has been in an accident. 

Another kind of a scam involves a person who calls, claiming to represent a government agency, to tell the target that money is earmarked for them, with no obligation to repay, but that a down payment in the form of a bank transfer or gift card must be sent first to secure it.

There are multiple varieties of these scams. Clearly, many people who receive these calls, texts or emails realize what they are. Others buy in initially but grow suspicious quickly and call their banks to report it and thus suspend the sending of any funds. Others, sadly, just fall for them.

What we are describing here is, of course, a huge national problem, with financial losses in the tens of millions. Some accounts from around the country describe a senior citizen losing his entire life savings after being conned by someone representing himself as an official with a federal agency or department.

Locally, we are surprised by how many such situations have appeared in our police blotters for both Riverhead and Southold. But now there is a way to find out about these scams and how to protect yourself.

Responding to this crisis, Southold Town will hold a forum on Thursday, Oct. 7, to show people how to avoid identity theft. The town, responding to a spike in these types of crimes, is sounding the alarm and we are grateful they are doing so.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in these fraud scams, both over the telephone or by email, in 2021,” Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said in an email. 

“The scams target the elderly in many cases, everywhere from promising a get rich opportunity, a need to address the expired warranty on your vehicle to sending money because a family member is in trouble,” he said. “We will also address identity theft schemes and provide examples of email attempts we have seen to illegally capture necessary information to virtually steal your identity.”

The forum will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Southold Town Recreation Center in Peconic. We urge anyone who wants more information to preregister by calling town government liaison officer Denis Noncarrow at 631-765-5806.

Karen McLaughlin, the town’s director of human services, said a typical victim is an elderly person living alone who uses some government services, which she said creates a “window of opportunity” scammers can exploit.

As Chief Flatley said, these scams are now the most reported crime or attempted crime his department is seeing. The event will be hosted by the chief, Mr. Noncarrow and Ms. McLaughlin. A detective from the Suffolk County Police Department is also expected to attend.

This is a good opportunity to learn how to avoid scams and protect yourself.