More than 100 phone scams were reported to Southold Police Department this year

In the age of artificial intelligence and other technological advances, it is becoming increasingly common to hear about the victims of scam phone calls, texts or emails. 

Southold Police Captain Steven Grattan told The Suffolk Times last week that the department had received more than 100 reports of illicit scams over the course of this year, with an average of two to three calls regarding such incidents each week. 

Capt. Grattan said there have been 70 reports of identify theft in 2023, which increased from last year. According to the Southold Police Department’s annual report, in 2022 there were 62 fraud cases and 188 reported in 2021 — 125 of which were reports of COVID-19-related unemployment fraud, he added.

Capt. Grattan said the elder population is the most common target of scam phone calls, with criminals typically making urgent demands for money. Scammers are now able to clone and disguise their voices, as well as generate intricate scripts using AI. 

“People are contacted by somebody pretending to be an official — whether it’s a police officer, or a lawyer or corrections officer — claiming that one of their relatives, usually a grandchild, has been involved in an accident and was arrested, and they need to come up with money to bail them out,” Capt. Grattan said.

Just last month, there were multiple incidents of fraud reported in the Southold police blotter, including a Southold man who told officers he was the victim of a phone scam in which he sent roughly $300,000 to the Dominican Republic over the past five years. 

A 76-year-old Mattituck man also told police last month he sent payments to a scammer posing as a PSEG representative. A 72-year-old East Marion woman received a text message from Dime Bank about fraudulent airline ticket charges totaling $1,762.80 on her debit card.

Mr. Grattan said quite a few victims fall for scammers pretending to be PSEG or Suffolk County Water Authority representatives threatening to turn off utilities if they don’t make an immediate payment. Phishing and spoofing schemes, in which scammers try to either trick targets into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card numbers or banking PINs, or steal their identities outright, are also on the rise. 

With the holiday season in full swing, the FBI and local police departments are warning residents to be vigilant, as scammers tend to increasingly target online buyers and sellers this time of year. 

In 2022, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported roughly 12,000 victims of non-payment or non-delivery scams, resulting in more than $73 million in losses. 

Capt. Grattan specifically warned of scams on Facebook Marketplace — where users can buy and sell either new or used items via the social media platform.

“With the holidays coming up, maybe they’re looking to purchase a gift for somebody and it’s completely fraudulent,” Mr. Grattan said. “They’ll send a deposit and then contact us and say they never received the item, or now the person is no longer contacting them.” 

Fraud impacts everyone, not just the elderly, Capt. Grattan said, noting that his department has seen an uptick in scammers targeting juveniles through social media accounts. 

These scenarios are becoming more prominent across the country, Capt. Grattan said, with strangers conniving to start digital conversations with minors, gaining their trust, then requesting intimate photographs from them. 

There have been a few reported cases of these kinds of incidents in Southold as well, he continued. 

“Some of [the victims] will send a picture and immediately, that person they’ve been talking to will then threaten to disseminate that photograph throughout the local school district,” Capt. Grattan said. “If they don’t send $500 or a $1,000, that’s something that they threaten to do, so we’ve seen a lot of that.” 

Capt. Grattan and other law enforcement agencies recommend the following steps residents should take to protect against potential fraud:

  • First and foremost, don’t answer calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize. If it’s not one of your contacts, let the call go to voicemail.
  • Spoofing apps allow scammers to change their phone numbers on caller ID so they appear to be coming from a legitimate company or agency. Don’t always believe what pops up on your phone.
  • Put any phone numbers coming from unknown callers into a search engine — in quotes — to see if the number has been connected to scams. 
  • Verify phone numbers by contacting official channels — whether by calling a company or bank directly or checking its website. 
  • Don’t give out any identifying information, such as your home address, phone number, social security number or passport information. 
  • Don’t make payments with a wire transfer, gift card or cash without verifying the legitimacy of the transaction— these are the three most common payment methods scammers use get your money.
  • Ask a trusted friend for advice before turning over money or personal information over the phone, online or in person.
  • Hang up robocalls immediately.
  • Be skeptical of free or trial offers, and research cancellation policies, especially for subscription services — whether it be a magazine subscription or any online service with recurring charges; Never deposit a check for a stranger and then wire the individual money or hand over cash. 
  • The FBI and local law enforcement agencies urge everyone to never send comprising images of themselves to anyone, and to not open attachments from senders they don’t know. 

The Federal Trade Commission regularly updates its Consumer Alerts page, which notifies users of the latest scams and how to avoid them. Victims can also file a complaint about a scam with the FTC via or by calling 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

Capt. Grattan said that anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they feel they may have been scammed should contact their local police department immediately and fill out a police report.

The Southold Police Department will be hosting a seminar on the most common scams and how to avoid them at Peconic Landing in Greenport on Tuesday Jan. 9.