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Pokemon Go poses ‘tragic real-world’ risks, officials warn

Fans of the new Pokemon Go game gather

Fans of the new Pokemon Go game gather at Port Jefferson's Harborfront Park on Monday, July 11, 2016, where they use their phones to catch virtual Pokemon characters that might appear at that location. The park has become a very active hotspot for players of the interactive game. Hundreds of passionate players have descended on Port Jefferson and other Log Island communities since the game was first introduced in the U.S. last week. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

If you’ve “gotta catch ’em all,” don’t become a victim while doing so, local officials warn.

The popular smartphone app Pokemon Go, which requires players to walk around and explore real-world locations to “catch” Pokemon that appear on their screens, is raising concerns about potential hazards like players walking in front of cars, bumping into things or crashing their bikes while searching for the virtual critters.

But officials say the game could pose more serious risks, too.

Suffolk County police Commissioner Timothy Sini cautioned players to “be aware of their surroundings” while using the app and for parents to supervise young children playing the game.

“This application can be used, and has been used in other parts of the country, to lure people to certain spots only to be robbed and taken advantage of,” Sini said in a news conference Tuesday, referring to a case in Missouri in which four armed robbers lured victims using one of the game’s features.

Sini was joined by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Paul Alonzo, program manager of the advocacy group Parents for Megan’s Law.

“The people who are quickest to adapt to new trends and social media technology are criminals and predators who will utilize these technologies to carry out their criminal activity,” Bellone said.

Alonzo says the game’s “lure module,” a feature that draws Pokemon to a specific location, could be used by predators to “victimize” children.

Sini also warned that searching for Pokemon was not an excuse to wander onto private property and that “trespass laws will be enforced.”

His warning came amid reports from around the country of Pokemon players showing up where they weren’t wanted. A Massachusetts man took to Twitter to complain about dozens of people blocking his driveway and crowding outside his house, which was marked a Pokemon gym and is a hot spot for Pokemon “trainers.”

The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Arlington National Cemetery have gone as far as to ask visitors not to play the game on their grounds.

“We do not consider playing ‘Pokemon Go’ to be appropriate decorum on the grounds of ANC. We are asking all visitors to refrain from such activity,” Arlington National Cemetery tweeted Tuesday.

And amid “reports from around the country” of people using the mobile app while driving or crossing the street, the Department of Motor Vehicles urged New Yorkers not to play the game while behind the wheel.

“What is meant to be a fun game can have tragic, real-world consequences if you’re playing it while driving or crossing the street. Simply put, catching viral creatures to get to the next level is not worth risking your life or the lives of others,” Terri Egan, DMV executive deputy commissioner, said in a statement.

More lighthearted public safety reminders were issued by the MTA and NYPD Monday.

“Yeah we know Charizard is rare but don’t let Officer Monello & his new partner catch you! Don’t #CatchEmAll & drive!” the NYPD’s 19th Precinct tweeted with a photo of an officer with his arm around a Pikachu.

The MTA gave a similar warning.

“Hey #PokemonGO players, we know you gotta catch ’em all, but stay behind that yellow line when in the subway,” the MTA tweeted along with a picture of a Pokemon standing on a subway platform.


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