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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.

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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