Between unsolicited cellphone calls and hard-to-get-rid-of computer popups, it’s a wonder that any of us come out whole at the end of a day. The weekly police logs are starting to resemble plots of Stephen King novels, with scammers, fangs bared, lurking around every bend. Woe betide the innocents who click on the poisoned link or hurry to CVS to buy the gift card that will save their grandson from jail — or worse.
No one is immune. According to one company study, almost one in six Americans have been taken in. Phone scams have become so prevalent that some people no longer answer calls except from known and familiar numbers. It’s a sure bet that anyone urgently claiming that “service will be cut off” or that have anything to do with Social Security numbers or other private information is running a con. There is no need to be polite — just end the call as fast as possible.
A number of victims, judging by published reports, appear to be members of the Latino community. As if they don’t have enough to worry about, what with ICE and other federal bogeymen, our Spanish-speaking neighbors are apparently becoming targets right here at home. In Southampton last month, for example, a woman working at a pro bono organization that provides legal services to immigrants was charged with fraud and grand larceny for requesting payment when no fee was required. Shady types thrive where many people who are afraid may be wary of going to police.
One of the most disturbing shakedowns yet is also aimed at Latinos — emails or text messages showing people being shot or beheaded, blood everywhere, and a warning: We are coming for you, too, unless you buy us off. Late last month, a Springs resident received just such a threatening text, in Spanish, from an unknown number, with a photo of his toddler, sitting out on the front porch, attached. Dreadful pictures followed, demanding money or the child would be killed. (That man called East Hampton police and was advised not to respond. How many others, concerned about contact with the authorities, whether or not they’re in this country legally, might have quietly acquiesced?)
Several years ago, during a wave of nighttime thefts involving unlocked vehicles, town police blanketed Springs and other affected neighborhoods with fliers warning people to keep their parked cars locked. A similar blitz might be in order now, with some wise words — in two languages — about recognizing a scam before it’s too late.