The Collier County Sheriff’s Office has launched a hotline as a resource for people when they receive suspicious e-mails, text-messages or other forms of communication demanding money or personal information.
The agency’s Call Before You “Pay” hotline – 239.252.CALL (2255), is staffed by a CCSO deputy in the Financial Crimes Bureau between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Scammers employ an endless array of phony pitches designed to separate people from their money – the lottery scam, the grandparent scam and the charity scam are among the most popular. One of the newer scams arrives in the form of a text-message indicating that the recipient’s bank or credit card company needs personal information such as their Social Security or Pin number.
“Criminals are constantly coming up with new ways to approach potential victims,” said Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. “What we would like people to do is contact us before they respond to a request that seems unusual.”
When a member of the public calls the hotline, a deputy will ask him or her to describe the situation. Based on the information provided, the deputy will advise whether the communication sounds like a scam and provide tips to help the caller make a wise decision before moving forward. Ultimately, the decision of whether to provide the payment or information that is being requested is up to the caller.
The fraud hotline is not for in-progress fraud. In those situations it is best to call the agency’s main line at 239.252.9300, or in an emergency, call 911.
Here are some common scams aimed at separating victims from their money:
The victim receives a counterfeit money order or cashiers check in the mail and is instructed deposit it into his bank account and then make two or three small purchases to evaluate. The victim is also asked to evaluate companies that wire money (Western Union and Money Gram). The victim is requested to withdraw the remaining money from the deposited counterfeit check and wire those funds, usually to Canada. Within two weeks the money order or cashiers check is returned as counterfeit.
With the economy the way it is people might be inclined to sell items on eBay, craigslist or other online venue. Beware if the “buyer” sends a check greater than the sale amount and asks that the difference be wired to a third party who is arranging shipping. The check will turn out to be counterfeit and the victim will be responsible to the bank for cashing or depositing it.
Circle of Sisters:
This scheme, usually targeted at women, calls for invited participants to contribute $5,000 to the circle. The promise is that as participants move closer to the center of the circle they will receive up to $40,000 as new members join. Not only are participants likely to lose the money they contribute to the circle, being affiliated with such schemes is a crime in Florida.
Lottery Ticket Scam:
This scam usually targets Hispanics. The suspect approaches the victim and says he or she is having trouble cashing in a Florida Lottery ticket due to being in the country illegally. The suspect tells the victim there are fees or taxes that need to be paid up front. At some point a second suspect appears as a third party who overheard the conversation and agrees to give some of the money toward the fees if the victim will give the rest. Once the victim has handed over money the two suspects disappear.
Bank Examiner/Police Impersonator:
This scam usually targets the elderly. The suspect contacts the victim claiming to be either a bank examiner or police officer and asks for the victim’s assistance in catching a crooked bank employee. The suspect asks the victim to withdraw money and turn it over to the suspect as part of a confidential investigation. Once the suspect receives the money he or she disappears.
The suspect requests the victim’s assistance in moving money, usually from Africa to the United States, so the government does not keep it. The victim might be sent a counterfeit check to cover “fees” or be asked to pay the “fees” to get the money transferred.
The victim is notified that he or she has won a foreign lottery and must collect the winnings by a certain date. Along with the notification letter is a counterfeit check the victim needs to cash or deposit to cover the “fees” associated with the winnings, which are to be wired to the suspects, usually out of the country.