Shelter Island Reporter editorial: Preventing fraud

Imagine receiving this phone call: “You will be taken into custody by local cops, as there are more serious allegations pressed on your name at this moment. We would request you to get back to us so that we can discuss about this case before taking any legal action against you.”

Phone scams unfold in several different ways. A person states they work for a utility company and threatens to shut off the power if payment is not immediately made. A victim is asked to wire money because a family member has been arrested, or is in jail. A government agency, such as the IRS, threatens to arrest a victim if they don’t make a payment. Or an opportunity is presented that, to facilitate cash transfers to your account, you must give your Social Security, bank account and PIN, and you’ll reap a financial reward.

Officials have warned of one of the most common scams, where an authoritatively-sounding person says he/she is from the Internal Revenue Service and you will be charged with a crime if you don’t pay a certain amount immediately. (Experts in the field of fraud prevention have noted that the IRS does not call to demand immediate payments, but generally sends a bill as a first communication.)

As Police Chief Jim Read said last week in the wake of revelations that Islander Heather Lee lost her entire life savings due to a scam over the phone, “If you have to give money to get money, it’s a fraud.” Offering advice to the public, he added, “If you have any questions, stop, and contact the Police Department, or someone close to you that you trust.”

The number for the Shelter Island Police Department is 631-749-0600.

A GoFundMe page, posted by Peggy DiSunno, is up and running for her friend, Ms. Lee, The address of the page is gofundme.com/f/help-heather-heal-from-a-huge-scam.

The devastating losses are real, and widespread. As our story states, more than 59 million Americans reported losing money from phone scams over the past 12 months, which is up from 56 million in 2020. The average loss was $502, up from $351, CNBC reported, and the total loss Americans suffered from phone and digital fraud was a stunning $29.8 million over the past 12 months.

Again, if there are doubts about the legitimacy of a call, contact the police or a trusted family member or friend, and never give financial or personal information during the calls.