Sick scam: Callous fraudsters target ill 9/11 heroes

Apr 22, 2018
In The News

First responders left sickened by the toxic fumes they inhaled at Ground Zero are now falling prey to something else — scam artists, the Daily News has learned.

A crew of callous cons have been reaching out to sufferers from 9/11-related illnesses, claiming to be members of the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

The fraudsters claim they need to confirm some information and want the fund enrollees to rattle off their addresses, Social Security numbers and other information that could be used in a host of identity theft scams, officials said.

“These guys have an express ticket straight to hell,” FDNY Firefighter Robert Sgro said Saturday. Sgro, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease from the six weeks he spent at Ground Zero, received a call from one scammer about two weeks ago, but immediately knew something was amiss.

The fund usually corresponds with patients through email or regular mail, not over the phone, he said. “There are a lot of scams going on, but this is really sick that they are doing it here,” said Sgro, 52, who currently teaches hazmat operations at the FDNY Fire Academy on Randalls Island.

Steven Ferrao, who is also enrolled in the Victim Compensation Fund, also got a call from a scammer.

“He had broken English. I knew he couldn’t be from the (fund) because I couldn’t understand half of what he was saying,” Ferrao, who suffers from obstructive airway disease — nicknamed “World Trade Center cough” — remembered about the call.

“He said, ‘You guys have rights and I need your Social Security number,’ ” Ferrao said. “I think it’s horrible. People are dealing with 9/11-related sicknesses every day and there are people trying to make money off of them.”

 “I just hope some older people in the program don’t say ‘OK’ and give over the information and not realize they were taken advantage of,” added Ferrao, 43.

Ferrao reported the incident on the Facebook page of the FealGood Foundation, a group dedicated to sufferers of 9/11-related illnesses. On Friday, the Victim Compensation Fund put an alert about the scam on its website.

“Upon hearing about the incidents, the (fund) immediately clarified its identity validation policy so claimants could be confident that they are speaking to (fund) representatives,” an agency spokeswoman said Friday. “Effective immediately, the (fund) will never ask you for your full Social Security number.”

Legislators who helped create the fund have urged the Federal Trade Commission to open a formal investigation into the scam.

“The thousands of 9/11 responders and survivors who have been injured by the toxins at Ground Zero have faced years of adversity and challenges,” Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Pete King (R-L.I.) said in a letter to the FTC.

“It is despicable that this community now needs to worry about being tricked into revealing sensitive personal information that could cause real harm in their lives if the data was used maliciously.”

If enrollees get a call from a scammer, they shouldn’t provide them with anything, note as many details as they can and call the fund hotline, (855) 885-1555.