BROOKHAVEN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Legitimate-looking letters arriving in Long Island mailboxes have been informing homeowners they face fines for improper recycling practices, but officials say they’re part of a widespread scam.

The fake letters appear authentic, citing Department of Environmental Conservation and Environmental Protection Agency codes.

The official-looking complaints, including case numbers, fines and surcharges, inform Town of Brookhaven homeowners, as scofflaws, they mixed trash in with recyclables and owe heft fines, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reports.

“They send you a bill — a violation. They cite a code that doesn’t exist. A first offense is like $50 to $150, the second is $200 to $350, and the third $400 to $1,000,” Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall. “They say make the checks or money orders payable to RCM, whoever RCM is.” 

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Dan Panico said dozens of worried residents are heading to town hall, phoning in and reaching out to waste management workers with fears of owing up to $1,000 for unintentional screw-ups.

“You are subject to a penalty — $50 — plus an $8 surcharge. And if you don’t pay, it’s going to escalate,” he said.

Doreen Otiz, of Moriches, told McLogan she almost fell for it.

“They pull off these scams. These people are the scum of the earth,” she said.

The fraudulent scheme is so involved that perpetrators include stamped self-addressed envelopes for the cash and checks. Investigators are watching a Stony Brook post office box and the paper trail.

The ring is thought to be targeting the elderly, and some fear what’s next — going door-to-door with the letters to rip off senior citizens, McLogan reported.

“A lot of elderly people feel very vulnerable about this stuff, and this is a way of getting their money. So these people should really be caught,” resident Benny Geraci said.

The con artists may be betting that residents are not aware that the Town of Brookhaven now has single-stream recycling, McLogan reported. So homeowners are supposed to combine paper, plastic and metal.

So far, letters have been sent to southeastern Brookhaven hamlets Manorville, the Moriches, Mastic and Shirley.

“It’s a total scam. It’s bogus. And not a person should pay these people a dime,” Panico said.

The town attorney is asking the Suffolk County police department and the district attorney to commence a full investigation of the bogus bills. Town leaders say homeowners should call the police if they receive a fake letter in the mail.