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With rise in ID thefts, Southold Town hosting seminar on avoiding becoming a victim

Southold Town is planning a program on how to avoid identity theft following a spike in fraud crimes this year. 

The seminar, planned for early October, will define identity theft, explain how it occurs and its implications and address ways to avoid becoming a victim and steps to take if you do. Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said at Tuesday’s Town Board session that the number of crimes listed as fraud has risen rapidly so far this year. 

“It’s by far the most reported crime or attempted crime that we’re seeing today,” Mr. Flatley said. Over the past five years, an average of 25 fraud crimes have been reported to Southold police annually, but that number has already hit 160 so far in 2021. 

Karen McLaughlin, town director of human services, said fraud schemes often target the elderly. Many of them live alone and use government services and health care frequently, creating “windows of opportunity” for identity theft, she said. 

Some common schemes have included fake handymen offering services and contacts from someone claiming a victim’s family member needs money. Ms. McLaughlin said that, as an example, a few months ago Target flagged a suspicious purchase after an elderly woman bought around $1,000 in gift cards to pay a supposed ransom for her grandson. 

It’s very difficult to recover lost assets, but there are mechanisms to address identity crimes, she added. Mr. Flatley said it’s similarly very difficult to prosecute or even investigate identity theft. 

The seminar will be held on Thursday, Oct. 7, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the Southold Town Recreation Center. Interested attendees can call government liaison officer Denis Noncarrow at 631-765-5806 to preregister. Ms. McLaughlin said the town is providing transportation to the seminar, which will be taped for future presentations. 

The event will be hosted by Ms. McLaughlin, Mr. Noncarrow, Mr. Flatley and a detective from Suffolk County Police Department’s identity theft unit.