In the uncertainty and turbulence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the rate of fraud schemes and scam attacks continues to rise.
Fraud cost Florida $199.4 million last year. That’s a 119.8% increase from 2019, the 11th highest increase in the nation, according to Quote Wizard, a Lending Tree company and one of the nation’s leading online insurance marketplaces.
“Our team of insurance analysts found that fraud increased by over 97% in the last year, costing Americans more than $2.3 billion,” company officials stated.
“The increase in fraud is directly tied to the ongoing pandemic. Criminals took advantage of relief efforts and we saw job-related scams, credit fraud and identity theft increase by more than 100%,” said Nick VinZant, a senior research analyst with Quote Wizard.
Volusia County was not left unscathed, according to Sheriff Mike Chitwood.
“Fraud and online scams are big problems in Florida, especially for our senior citizens, and Volusia County’s no exception,” the sheriff said. “We’re seeing seniors targeted to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars in some cases. I can’t stress enough how important it is for our residents to report these cases to law enforcement. We’ll do everything in our power to arrest the person or persons responsible, even if they’re halfway across the country. In fact, we just did that in a case the other day – and we are getting the 80-year-old victim’s money back.
“We need the public’s help in stopping these scams,” Sheriff Chitwood said. “That means hanging up the phone when a scam artist calls threatening or scaring you into sending money. Or just don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. Don’t believe random people or so-called ‘friends’ you talk to on Facebook or other social media sites – when they start asking you for money, I can almost guarantee it’s a scam.”
Volusia Sheriff’s detectives recently identified and charged an online scam artist who tricked an 80-year-old New Smyrna Beach-area woman into sending him $41,000. The victim came forward in January to report she was scammed. She told a deputy she got a phone call from a stranger claiming to be a computer expert in New York. The caller told her hackers had accessed her computer and were stealing her information.
The caller told the victim she needed to send him a check for $20,000, which she did. In a follow-up phone call from a female caller claiming to be from the Sheriff’s Office, the victim was told to send a second check for $21,000. A detective assigned to the investigation tracked the checks to the accounts where they were deposited, which belonged to a Jeffrey Sorgatz in Las Vegas. Det. Adam Huffman obtained bank video, which showed the same suspect depositing each check. Mr. Sorgatz was arrested in Las Vegas and is in custody there with no bond, pending extradition to Volusia County.
VCSO also reported that in a new twist on a common crime, scam artists are now sending Uber drivers or other couriers straight to their victims’ homes to pick up thousands of dollars in cash. A caller contacts the victim out of the blue, claiming a family member (often a grandson) was just in a crash, was just arrested or is in some kind of legal trouble, and needs thousands of dollars fast. Sometimes a second caller might get on the phone posing as an attorney, a law enforcement officer or some other official. The victims, generally senior citizens, give in to pressure, agree to withdraw cash and hand over the money to a driver who shows up at their home.
The most common type of fraud Daytona Beach Police see is credit card fraud, according to Messod Bendayan, public information office. Usually when someone’s card gets stolen or lost and then someone else uses it. After that, the next most common one the police see is identity theft, then check fraud, followed by schemes to defraud. (That’s the romance scams, Nigerian Prince and such, where the suspects says if you send them money, they will send them back a much larger amount.)
Port Orange Police frequently respond to fraud and scam complaints during their tours of duty, according to Andre Fleming, public information officer. “As such, we train our officers both in how to investigate frauds, and how to educate our citizens in fraud prevention. This educational program has become one of the major focus points of our police department’s community outreach initiative. We believe that education in detection of frauds/scams in conjunction with aggressive investigation into the perpetrators of said crimes is the best way to reduce the number of frauds occurring in our city.”
The most effective way to combat these scams is to educate the population on common types of scams or indicators that you have been the victim of a recent scam attack. Most likely “If it sounds too good to be true. . . it is!”
Fraud Contact Resources:
•Federal Bureau of Investigation: IC3.gov
•U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 800-447-8477 and oig.hhs.gov
•U.S. Department of Homeland Security: Tip Line: (866)-347-2423 and ICE.gov/tips
•Office of the Florida Attorney General Hotline: (866) 966-7226 or myfloridalegal.com/contact.
Local law enforcement agencies. Many are willing to give public presentations on fraud prevention.