Left to right: Paul Corrigan, Christine Hatfield and Lt. P.J. Trujillo

Scamming, A Growing Threat to Us All

With the exponential rise and sophistication of scams, how can you identify a scam and what proactive measures can you take to avoid being taken in the first place?   The Larchmont-  Mamaroneck Local Summit’s final meeting of the season held on May 14 focused on these pressing questions. 

Exponential Rise in Scams

Lieutenant P. J. Trujillo of the Investigations Division in the Village of Mamaroneck Police Department reported that in 2020 alone, victims lost $4.1 billion to a variety of scams.  “Five years ago, we saw a scam report maybe once a month, and now we are seeing it on an almost daily basis,” said Paul Corrigan, Branch Manager at the Larchmont branch of Wells Fargo Bank.  There has been a similar increase of cases reported to the Westchester County D.A.’s office.

Typically, “scammers target individuals who are living alone, immigrants, a grieving spouse, the disabled, and the elderly”, Lt. Trujillo said.  According to Christine Hatfield, Chief of the Child Abuse and Elder Abuse Bureaus in the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, teens are also targeted.  

Scammers find their targets in a variety of ways.  Information is readily available online, explained Lt. Trujillo.  For example, when individuals sign up for loyalty points or a credit card, information can be extracted and their profile can be sold.  “Scammers only need a little bit of information to start the process, and once they start you talking on the phone, they are able to verify further information.” Both Lt. Trujillo and Hatfield noted that teens are vulnerable, especially when they enter information on encrypted sites or gaming platforms. “Speak to your children and let them know that people can put them in a compromising position and then try to extort, “ Trujillo said. 

Current Scams: Online, In person, Over the phone

Much like a virus trying to avoid detection, scams are evolving.   Most rely on a sense of urgency to be successful, said Hatfield.  Examples include:

– A caller poses as a representative of Medicare or another health insurance company and informs the individual of an issue with the account.  They go on to ask for personal information and possibly bank information. 

– IRS phones saying money is owed

– Grandparent scam where loved one calls saying they have been arrested or injured and need funds

– Lottery scams

– Utility scam saying your AC or heat will be turned off unless there is an immediate payment by phone

– A call from a number that appears to be your bank (referred to as spoofing) saying your account has been compromised, followed by asking you to close the account and transfer funds to a new account. 

Don’t be a Victim 

“We are constantly advising our customers to not write checks,” said Corrigan.  But, if necessary, use a gel pen with permanent ink.  Why?  First, to avoid “check washing” a chemical process that criminals use to change the name of the payee and the amount of the check. And, second, to avoid the schemes of online gangs working with post office employees to open envelopes, photograph checks, post them online for sale, and reissue them.  Another way banking customers can protect themselves is to pay attention to the balance alerts that go to their devices and flag unusual banking activity.  

To avoid having your credit card information stolen by a skimming device affixed to a reader “we are advising our customers to not insert a credit card and to tap their phone or credit card instead” Corrigan stated.

Spoofing is big, said Hatfield and scammers can spoof a variety of numbers. “Hang up and call the bank or the utility company to verify, said Hatfield. “Wells Fargo is not going to ask you for money on the phone or ask you to open a new account” Corrigan continued.

Hatfield went on to warn that strangers should not be allowed inside your home. Lt. Trujillo spoke of an instance where individuals posed as utility workers and gained entry to a home.  While the homeowner was showing the “worker” to the basement, the second individual robbed the home.  He advised that one should “close the door, call your neighbor, or call law enforcement and say that you are not sure of what is going on.” 

Nicole Gamble, an Assistant District Attorney in Westchester County from the Economic Crime Bureau, joined the panel and warned individuals to be vigilant, especially when someone comes into your home. “I have been handling financial prosecutions for 25 years and it was always the person who knows you.  It is only routinely now where it is scams from abroad”.  

Gamble went on to advise that those with answering machines should use the automated message and let the machines do their job.  If you do pick up a call from a number you don’t recognize “say hello and don’t say yes.  The ‘yes’ can be used to authorize a transaction”. 

With the evolution of AI and the growing sophistication of scammers, it is important to stay informed.  “I don’t mean to scare you,” said Gamble “but I do mean to scare you”.

The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit is an informal community council that seeks to make a better life for the community by keeping it informed of major issues of concern.  Watch for emails in September announcing programs for the new season.   Visit the Local Summit online: LMC Media: