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Locals Fear Panhandlers May Be Scammers

Several incidents have been reported to Suffolk County police.

At first, recent sightings of supposedly needy families holding signs asking for money at stores along Veterans Highway and Nesconset Highway prompted Long Islanders to graciously open their wallets to help.

However, some now fear the panhandlers may be scamming people and exploiting children after the adults holding the signs were allegedly spotted with different children in their company.

An Aug. 29 post on a blog called "She Thinks That..." detailed sightings of panhandlers – along with accounts of seeing people giving them money, food, or other items – and has elicited comments from people who claim they saw the panhandlers in Commack, Smithtown, Hauppauge, the Three Village area, and other Suffolk County communities.

The blog quotes one Setauket resident who said she gave $10 to one panhandler outside , only to see the same man two days later with a different woman and different children at another Target location 20 miles away.

"I started hearing from neighbors that there seems to be a ring of people covering Long Island, from East to West, with the same sign," she said. "I’m disgusted that there has been nothing done to stop them, and that children are being dragged into their scam. If anyone is a victim, it’s not me. It’s those poor kids.”

One of the blog's commenters wrote: "I seen [sic] this family at . Feeling horrible for them I also gave $10.00. Then two weeks later seen them at target in BayShore same man different wife and kids. I too felt swindled!! Very sad for the children! It needs to be stopped!!"

Another commenter spotted the panhandlers in Hauppauge, Commack and Smithtown, eventually calling the non-emergency police line and writing: "I gave him a bag of clean baby items/blankets and a few dollars and left the parking lot in tears for that poor little baby ... 3 hrs later, I spotted the same sign (different people) in Commack ... 2 days later, same sign and different people AGAIN in Smithtown’s Uncle Giuseppe shopping center. AND they were leaning on the back of their 2011 Chrysler."

The Suffolk County Police Department has received several recent reports of people begging for money, including:

  • Aug. 24 at 2:50 p.m. at Target in Commack;
  • Aug. 24 at 7:40 p.m. at the same location;
  • Aug. 22 at 7:07 p.m. at the same location;
  • Aug. 21 at 1:31 p.m. at the same location;
  • Aug. 19 at 2:30 p.m. at the same location;
  • Aug. 18 at 5:38 p.m. at Walmart in East Setauket.

However, a law that prohibited panhandling was declared unconstitutional within the last two years, according to Inspector James Rhoads of the SCPD's fourth precinct.

"There used to be a law that said you weren’t allowed to loiter for the purposes of begging, but there is no such law now," he said in an interview Thursday. "It’s one of those things that just got declared unconstitutional. You ask somebody for money, it’s freedom of speech."

So while panhandlers can't be arrested, police can ask them to leave the property. Rhoads said police can offer them emergency assistance, such as temporary housing, if they are legitimately in need. He said the majority of the calls they have received express concern for the welfare of the children involved.

"We’re aware of the problem," Rhoads said. "As far as making an arrest, we can’t do that at this time. ... But we are looking into alternatives as to what we can do."

Have you seen panhandlers at places such as Target and Walmart? Have you given them money, or have you called the police? Log in to Patch and tell us in the comments.

KP LIslander September 01, 2012 at 05:08 PM
@ John: I agree with what you say about them going out to find jobs, as there are some jobs out there for those that wish to work them. The problem is that these individuals sadly feel that it IS better to just stand around collecting money instead of working because they probably make more money off the books by panhandling than they would make by working at a job that doesn't pay well. Plus, while I don't know the particulars of government assistance with regards to income eligibility, but perhaps if any of these people are receiving assistance, I wonder if it is the case that if they were to get a job on the books (and had to actually God forbid work), that if there were to make a certain income level by doing so, would that possibly make them ineligible for receiving certain assistance?
KP LIslander September 01, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Whoa! What do you mean that the "police cannot ask these questions"? Why not? These are valid & legitimate questions that any reasonable person would agree that would and should be asked on behalf of the welfare of the children involved. If children are witnessed being exploited by being involved with such activity, particularly when it is known that the children are with different adults at different locations from one day to the next, and all the while in the hot sun during the summer for hours at a time, it most certainly is not an issue with infringement upon one's right to panhandle when, on the contrary it is in fact a child welfare issue, and, as such the police have every right to make such inquiries.
prof mom September 01, 2012 at 06:49 PM
So many assumptions. Maybe they are truly in need? Many people are one paycheck away from their situation. Don't judge them based on the car they get into. You don't know their story. Neither do I, but I won't point fingers until I do. I too have seen these people panhandling. It's not a crime, they are not bothering anyone. They sit so far away from the entrance to the stores. If they were any further from the entrance they would be on 347. If you want to stop to help, go ahead. If not, keep driving. Put your phones away. Drive by and be thankful its not you and your children begging. As for social services, food stamps, public assistance? It's not so simple to apply and be granted. It's a long, confusing, humiliating process.
KP LIslander September 01, 2012 at 07:15 PM
There are many people that DO want to help those that are truly in need without having to worry about the possibility that those that they are helping may be scammers who are trying to take advantage of their good-heartedness. It shouldn't have to be that way. Those that are not legitimately in need and are intentionally scamming generous people are the ones that are causing these problems. And unfortunately THEY are the ones that are unfortunately making it worse for those who are truly in need. Those that are genuinely in need are bad off as it is to begin with - they certainly don't need for their situation to be made worse by those who choose to solicit money under false pretenses. What solutions are there for those that do want to EASILY help (at that moment) those that are genuinely in need that are seen panhandling? How does one easily go about ascertaining that they are legitimately in need and NOT a phony scammer? For those that are supposedly truly in need, why, if they were legit, would an adult be seen at one location one day with certain kids, then the next day be seen at a different location with different kids at a different location doing the same thing as was being done the day before? Hmmmm.....I'm sorry, but with all of what many have seen on numerous locations as mentioned above, it seems a little bit more than plausible that there are groups of individuals acting in concert in a fraudulent manner.
* September 01, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Prof Mom, I do not agree with you on HRA. Have you apply? Your statement is ergrecious. Why? HRA is "not" a long, confusing, and humiliating process. Contray, as one applying with the proper documentation is given respect and assistance. Additionally, the process gives Vocational Educational Services to enter the work force. With many sucessful applicants graduating with finding employment and bettering themselves. HRA employs LSCW'S who's outreach is to help those applying and trains a competent staff.
DougL September 02, 2012 at 02:36 AM
We saw the same couple today at Centereach Target (we have them $20 and then 2 hours later at the Walmart in Islandia. It's sad that people like now cause us to take pause to give money to people apparantly in need. What bothers us most is that the kids are being used to solicit the giving as most of us wouldn't believe that someone would stoop so low to use them in that way. I lost a little faith in "people" today.
TJM September 02, 2012 at 04:08 AM
UGH-saw them at Islandia Walmart today-only had big bills so got out of my car-ticking off all the cars behind me-to give them oatmeal and crackers that I had just bought.Seemed of middle eastern decent..I was thinking of that poor kid my whole way home and how I had forgotton I had some chocolate I should have given for a treat for him.Sad sad story..
11725 MAN September 02, 2012 at 12:16 PM
I have been approached three separate times by the "i ran out of gas scammers" in the last month. Once in commack corners parking lot. Once in target parking lot. Once in emilios parking lot. They are aggressive and one guy jumped in front of my car with hus hands up. Lucky i didnt hit him
Wayne D. September 02, 2012 at 05:37 PM
I don't give to any of them, I never begged for anything and nobody gave me anything, get a job or go to the welfare office..................
KP LIslander September 02, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Take pictures and make calls. Non-emergencies requiring police response: 1-631-852-COPS. Suffolk County Social Services - Child Protection Services: Commissioner's Response Unit: (631) 854-9935 /9936. During normal working hours, callers can request intervention. Emergency Services: (631) 854-9100. Handles all emergencies throughout the County at night, on weekends, and holidays. Child Protective Services: 1 (800) 342-3720. Suffolk County Department of Social Services Child Protective Services Bureau investigates reports of alleged child abuse and/or maltreatment made to the New York State Central Register at this toll free hotline number. PRECINCT FRONT DESKS 1st Precinct 555 Route 109, West Babylon: 854-8100. 2nd Precinct 1071 Park Ave, Huntington: 854-8200. 3rd Precinct 1630 5th Ave, Bay Shore: 854-8300. 4th Precinct 345 Old Willets Path, Hauppauge: 854-8400. 5th Precinct 125 Waverly Ave, Patchogue: 854-8500. 6th Precinct Route 25 / Middle Country Rd, Coram: 854-8600. 7th Precinct 1419 William Floyd Parkway, Shirley 852-8700. SUFFOLK COUNTY PD COMMANDS: Community Outreach Bureau: 852-6109. Crime Stoppers Unit: 852-6131. Criminal Intelligence Bureau: 852-6110. 24 Hour Emergency Contact Phone Number by Town: Babylon: 422-7600. Brookhaven: 451-6161. East Hamtpon: 537-7575. Huntington: 351-3234. Islip: 224-5306. Riverhead: 727-4500. Shelter Island: 749-0600. Smithtown: 360-7553. Southold: 765-2600.
Had Enuf! September 02, 2012 at 06:10 PM
A few years ago when gasoline skyrocketed, I was asked by a fellow in a suit in a supermarket shopping center for $5 to buy gasoline to get him to st Charles to see his mom. Stupid me have him $10. About 2 hours later I drove past on an errand and saw him pulling the same stunt on other shoppers. I went out of my way to ride up and down the parking lot telling everyone he was a fraud. He got in his car and drove away, with my money and others. I do not give to panhandlers anymore. Period
Justin Time September 03, 2012 at 10:48 AM
Have their relatives care for them..thats what they are here for..Silly people!
Mike Oxbig September 03, 2012 at 02:07 PM
You cannot hurt a twinkie.
KP LIslander September 03, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Follow up - I emailed News 12 about this on Saturday as a potential child welfare/endangerment issue as well as possibly a fraudulent solicitation issue. Although I used the email address provided on their website (provided below), I have not received an acknowledgement reply back YET for some reason despite requesting one (possibly due to reduced staffing for the holiday weekend?). I also just emailed Newsday as well a short while ago. Maybe it would have helped if I took photos and sent those in as well. ???? I would venture to say that it certainly can't hurt for the news outlets to receive calls/emails (photos too) from as many people as possible about this. NEWS 12 LI - E-mail: news12li@news12.com To report breaking news: 1-800-316-TIPS. To request news coverage: Assignment Desk-516-393-1390, select 2. NEWSDAY - Long Island news coverage: (631) 843-2700 To submit a story idea, email li@newsday.com or call 631-843-2700.
Justin Time September 04, 2012 at 10:53 AM
Those who need, rarely ask.
maureen smith September 04, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I have seen these people begging all summer. Why can't Children Protective Services get involved since chiuldren are being forced to sit in extreme heat in parking lots and by pass the no panhandling law? If people were panhandling with dogs in a broiling hot parking lot, the news would be all over it. Children, not so much.
K. September 04, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Unfortunately there is probably more political/legal fear about the perceived "targeting" of "certain groups" than there is concern for the children's safety.
KP LIslander September 04, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Apparently so. I'm still awaiting to hear a response back from News12 and/or Newsday. Tick, tock, tick, tock. The silence is deafening..................................and speaks volumes.
kpdm September 05, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Has anyone been approached in Kings Pk by african-amer man asking for money. Last night, in Rite Aid he came up to myself and children asking for money for something to eat. I did not give him anything and then he asked a few more people in the store. When I was paying, he was up there buying cigars. This man has also approached myself and other family members in different parking lots in KP. Has anyone been approached by him ??
Walter Isaacs September 06, 2012 at 12:59 AM
A guy by the name of Vinny Stidd pulls this one. He is on heroin, shows you his license, asks for your address so he can mail you a check. Keep walking when this guy tries to hit you up.
Kathleen Ryan September 07, 2012 at 08:25 PM
With school now in session, if any of these panhandlers have school-age kids with them during school hours, the police & CPS need to be called. What's been described here is activity by gypsies; hence, the switching-around of partners & kids. These people most likely don't have any ID, or they carry false ID, or amazingly, valid ID with fictional names. You would not believe some of the names they make up for themselves and these poor kids. I used to respond to a gypsy family's apartment on a regular basis in the late 80s while on patrol (for domestic incidents, aided cases, neighbor complaints, etc.); the parents often had warrants, usually for shoplifting. Or, I responded to local stores and one of the parents (and/or kids, they were in training) were being held for a shoplifting charge. Every time I'd run into the mother and one of her children during school hours, I'd notify CPS. It's surprising they stayed in one apartment for so long before eventually moving on. Occasionally, "relatives" would appear, and their names were shady, too. The poor children are the innocents in these scenarios.
BB September 08, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Over the summer, I have seen a lot of family panhandlers at different shopping centers and it broke my heart seeing these small children and infants being exploited. I never gave them any money or food, although very tempted, but I not only read their sign, but looked into their eyes and said to myself, these people are up to no good! Hopefully, there will be a law where this is illegal or at least a law not allowing parents to exploit their children while panhandling!
KP LIslander September 17, 2012 at 03:34 PM
As we know, the issue being discussed is not "Panhandling" in and of itself, as there are unfortunately and sadly many people legitimately in need, but rather the false pretenses under which panhandlers are willfully and knowingly planning and carrying out with the purpose of deception. So, just to get this straight, according to the police, it is OK to defraud as long as one is panhandling, as there is apparently no need for the police to follow through and investigate any possibility (or likelihood) of fraudulent or child exploitation activity? Wow. I can't help but wonder - How is it that by going to town meetings (as per the suggestions of the police) is going to somehow result in defining "HOW" the police are required to investigate certain (valid) aspects associated with panhandling?
Jennifer October 12, 2012 at 09:17 PM
I'm am so naive!! My husband and I were shopping at the Kohls in Melville when we saw this family. They had the sign about needing money for food, rent etc. We looked in the back seat of our minivan and saw how fortunate we are with our two children and naturally stopped and gave them $20...the baby broke our hearts! Wait, it doesn't stop there....as we drove into McDonald's across the way to buy our kids happy meals we thought, maybe they are hungry too??? We then proceeded to bring them $20 worth of McDonalds!!! Such fools!!! I like to see the best in people and being a teacher on Long Island, I realize that there really are many families in need....so disappointed to think we were taken advantage of! Well, one week later we saw them at BJ's on 110 and we called the cops....child endangerment....and I must say, it was a different child of course!!
John K Massaro October 12, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I don't consider you naive. I consider you to be person with a good heart who was taken advantage of by a bunch of gypsy criminals...
Alcivar March 14, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Echoing what Walter Isaacs said about Vinnie Stidd. He scammed me on March 4th, 2013 at the Gulf Station on 25A in East Setauket. He's amiable and a great actor. Heads up everyone!
ss April 14, 2013 at 04:03 AM
You all are so full of hate towards the poor and beggars .The truth is you dont know these beggars situations.They could be sitting outside or in their cars because they have nowhere elsr to go.I wonder what the people on this board would have said about jesus and his crew?
Guest April 14, 2013 at 04:36 AM
Feel free to give them YOUR money. The rest of us know what scam they are pulling. We see them everywhere. There are plenty of services for the poor here on Long Island.There is no reason for people to beg on the side of the road. Read the comments and see if you notice a pattern here. If your bleeding heart still feels the need to be Jesus like, let me know. I will gladly give you a full list of locations where you can donate to these con artists.
paul botticelli April 14, 2013 at 06:40 AM
It's amazing that ss would bring in "Jesus and his crew" to be exemplars for those who are the subject of this topic. I don't recall from any Biblical account that Jesus and his crew behaved in any of the ways that these folks behave. He did not beg, but this is not about begging anyway; it's about perpetrating a fraud, and using children as tools of that scheme. It is cleverly staged begging, and it is so transparently a scheme that it would be laughable except if we pay attention to the fact that the children are being exploited and subjected to abuse. (what else is it when a child is forced to stand outside for hours at a time?) - the police have an obligation to enforce the law, but if any law is being broken, it may not be "free speech" it may well be those of child endangerment and fraud.
Alcivar April 14, 2013 at 04:11 PM
ss- Apparently you don't have a clue as to what this "board" is about. I've helped the poor throughout my life as I understand and sympathize with their plight. However when someone "borrows" money because they forgot or lost their wallet and need to get a taxi to get home and then you find out that this person does this all day long to different people, that's not poverty. It's theft, plain and simple. That's what I'd like to warn people about especially since it just recently happened to me, and that's what we're talking about here!

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