In an attempt to combat recent scam attempts, a new hotline has been created for Suffolk County residents to solely report and track emerging schemes related to COVID-19.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart announced the new hotline this week. Residents can report scam attempts by dialing 631-852-SCAM where a police officer will vet the information and transfer it to the Criminal Intelligence Unit to track trends.

“We have been extremely proactive with educating the public about the variety of scams out there, but these fraudsters are convincing and people are still being bilked out of their hard-earned money,” said Commissioner Hart. “We are hopeful that this hotline will allow us to stay ahead of scammers and identify a scam prior to it becoming a wider issue.”

Depending on the information reported, a victim may be contacted by precinct detectives or Financial Crimes Unit detectives to conduct a follow-up investigation.

More than 1,100 reports involving scams were filed in 2019, and of those, 16% of people provided money. Since January 2020, 331 reports have been made, with 59 individuals providing money.

And since the start of COVID-19, scammers have been using the pandemic to cheat people out of cash. The statement provided by the County Executive said that criminals are attempting to take advantage of people’s fears and feelings of uncertainty during this global pandemic.

It reminds people to be aware of scammers targeting recipients of stimulus checks. Many of these scams involve websites that appear to be the IRS and other bank websites to trick individuals into providing financial information. Fraudsters are also using COVID-19 to launch scams including blackmail attempts, work from home scams, paying for non-existent medical treatments or equipment and investment scams.

“We have seen a steady increase in phone scams, which, for many, go ignored but the sad truth is that these scams do harm unsuspecting victims and we are committed to doing everything that we can to protect our residents,” Bellone said. “Now, residents have access to a hotline that is dedicated solely to tracking down individuals who attempt to commit online or telephones scams through the Suffolk County Police Department.”

The new 631-852-SCAM hotline will be staffed seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

As a reminder, never provide personal and/or banking information via email, social media or the phone without verifying the requestor’s identity.

Below are general tips from the Suffolk County Police Department on how to avoid becoming a victim of an email scam.

  • Do not open an email from someone you don’t know.
  • Do not reply to spam emails. Advances in technology allow scammers to make it appear emails are legitimate.
  • Be aware of any urgent request for money. 
  • Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, family member or charity. Do not send money or provide personal information to an unexpected request.
  • Do not provide gift cards or money before confirming the legitimacy of the situation.  
  • Do not provide financial or personal information such as names or addresses of yourself or relatives.
  • If you believe you are a victim of a scam, contact police immediately.

Photo of Suffolk County Police Department vehicle comes courtesy of The Suffolk Times.