Scammers Are Out There - Celebration, Florida

In a letter from Ben Franklin to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, he wrote “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Although Mr. Franklin was speaking about the new Constitution rather than victims of crimes, I got to thinking that criminals are unfortunately also a certainty in life. Many crimes cans be prevented with a bit of education.

For many of us, it’s a matter of time before we become a victim. Last year I was called to Human Resources at the Sheriff’s Office where I was told some good news in that I still had a job, but also bad news that someone filed for unemployment using my information. Luckily it was caught quickly and no damage to my credit or loss of money occurred. Even with the protections in place, it can still happen.

We get calls from victims of various scams year-round, but sometimes see additional calls in April, mostly due to tax season. My thoughts this month is to keep you advised and aware of new and old gimmicks that criminals are using to try and make you a victim.

The new pickpocket scam
I saw this call reported back in February in Orlando and saw another here in Osceola at the end of February. Essentially the victim is preyed upon and approached by a person in need of help. The Orlando incident was a young boy who “got lost” and asked to use the victim’s phone to call his family. While using the victim’s phone, the scammer quickly searches and accesses one of the victim’s money exchange apps and then transfers money from the account to a newly made account. The scammer thanks the victim and disappears before the victim is notified of the movement of cash. The new account has no names or information attached to identify the suspect. Results: $4000 gone in the Orlando case and $6000 gone from the Osceola victim. If someone needs help, don’t let them use your phone, but offer to help them by calling 911. I bet they find their family quickly at that point.

The Corporate Office Bitcoin
I’ve seen a few of this kind of call lately. In this scam, a local franchised business is called by a person identifying themselves as being from the corporate offices. This has occurred lately during the evening hours, when a manager or the franchisee isn’t around. The “corporate officer” advises the employee that there is a security breach or another problem, and then asks the employee to take the nightly cash and deposit the money into a Bitcoin ATM location. Once the deposit is made, the money is gone. If you run a business, please alert your employees and have them call you directly before removing any money for any phone call.

Tax scams
There are so many scams to take victims’ money here but seems the longer you wait to file your taxes, the more likely to have your information used to file a fraudulent return and take your money. It’s probably not a good idea to stop at the guy using a pop-up tent in a store parking lot, share all your personal information and expect a good outcome. Use a reputable tax service or tax accountant to file your taxes as soon as possible. File your taxes as early as possible also.

The Secret Shopper Job Offer
The scam involves the victim either answering a scam text or email, or even applying for a job as a secret shopper. The victim is asked via text or email to go out and buy several thousand dollars of various gift cards, for which they’ll be reimbursed, to go shop with and rate the store. The scammer requests pictures of each gift card, showing the scratched off the PIN number area as a “proof of purchase.” By the time the secret shopper goes shopping, they find the gift cards no longer have any funds on them and were used. The scammers have already used the card from the information you sent them.

Newly Purchased gift card predicament.
Along the same lines as the gift card scam, the unsuspecting victim purchases gift cards as a gift for a friend of family member. What they don’t notice is that the scammer has already scratched off the PIN number area and copied the number down. The scammer continually calls the phone number to find out if the card is activated and what the balance is. Once activated, the scammer goes shopping. The true recipient later discovers the card has a zero balance when they try to use it. When buying gift cards, check the back of the card to ensure the scratch off area is intact and that the card doesn’t appear seem tampered with.

The Utility Scam
This old scam involved getting a call, text or email advising you that your power, water or phone will be shut off if you don’t immediately pay over the phone. Sometimes they ask for your credit card number, expiration and security codes and other times ask you to go buy a prepaid visa gift card. Many times, they will attempt to keep you on the phone while you go purchase the items. None of the utility companies, I repeat, NONE of the utility companies will shut off your utilities without proper notice and/or sending you a letter in the mail. Also, NONE of them will want you to pay with a gift card. If you get this kind of call, hang up and then dial the real customer service number listed on your bill. All utility workers will have a photo ide with them if they show up at your house. If you aren’t sure, call the company directly to ask if they sent someone to you home.

Jury Duty
Here you get a call from Deputy Weiland (yes, my name has been used before) or other officer, to let you know you missed a jury duty. You may be threatened with an arrest or to have the cops come out to your place of work unless you pay a fine. The officer or deputy will speak very harsh and continue to pressure you with being arrested until you give them your credit card number or gift card numbers. Please remember, no law enforcement agency will have you pay with a gift card number over the phone. If you are going to be arrested, the Sheriff gives us nice cars and we will visit you in person. If you do get a visit, we may be in uniform or plain clothes, but you can still ask for an ID.

The list of scams goes on and on. No one really wants to extend your car warranty. The hotel chain is not going to give you a free hotel stay. The cruise line isn’t giving out free cruises. Real solar energy guys don’t call over the phone. Your credit card company isn’t going to call you to lower your rate. You work hard for your money and for what you have. Do not make it easy for some low life scammer to take it away from you. It may not be a quote from Ben Franklin but please always remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Protect your personal information and do not share it with anyone. Please be safe and don’t allow yourself to be the victim of a scammer.