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Sarasota versus scam calls: Sheriff’s Office delivers fraud awareness seminar

Written by on Friday, June 30, 2023

Sarasota residents hand millions of dollars to fraudsters every year. On June 22, the Sheriff’s Office Economics Crime Unit presented a seminar to outline the types of scams to look out for an how to avoid them.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: June 28, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: Sarasota residents hand millions of dollars to fraudsters every year, and the sheriff’s department wants to limit the damage. WSLR’s Ramon Lopez tells us how.

Host: Nearly $9 billion in fraud loss was seen nationwide in 2022, according to the Federal Trade Commission, with fraud accounting for over $13 million in financial losses to Sarasota County residents last year. Florida ranks in the top four in the U.S. for fraud-related reports for the last five years. To help, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Economics Crime Unit, along with state Attorney Andrew Van Sickle, presented an eye-opening seminar at Temple Emanu-El in Sarasota on June 22 to outline the various types of scams and provide tips on how to avoid them.

The presentation was geared to 200 or so senior citizens in attendance. The ECU was created October 2021, and since then has recovered $3.6 million ripped off from county citizens. The Anti Crime Unit reported a total of 545 fraud-related incidents in the county just in the first half of 2023. Fraud is the intentional use of false or misleading information—some, very convincing—to steal. Economic crimes include credit card and check fraud, ransomware, phishing, charitable scams and so-called romance scams.

The State Attorney General recently warned about jury duty scams, in which targets are called about missing jury duty then, threatened that was jail time if a fine is not paid. Other new scams include online travel scams that employ fake travel websites and fake vacation rentals. Fraudsters pretending to be from legitimate travel companies request personal information or payment details under the guise of confirming reservations.

Andrew Van Sickle told the group that online investment scams continue to be a problem.

Andrew Van Sickle: And you’re looking at the stocks from every day, what’s going on, so this looks fairly legitimate, okay? And you’re like, geez, my money is going crazy, right? Wow, this is fantastic, and I only gave them $10,000 and it’s already up to $62,000 in real value. So then you’re like, well, let me take a little bit out. And sometimes they will let you take some out, okay?

But, if you try to take out too much, you’ll start getting this. “Dear customer, the regulations say that you paid money to the taxes,” or they’ll say, “this will trigger an IRS warning.” Kind of scaring you off, saying you can’t take too much out. Too much, no no no. So they want you to go ahead and say, “Alright, I’ll only take $300 out.” Meanwhile, you keep putting money back in.

Host: He said romance scams haven’t gone away.

AVS: This is a long, long, long, long way from the old romance scams that people are still falling for. Detective Verdoni and I just had a very recently for a person who was trying to date an Israeli general. An Israeli general, this person thought they were dating, and sent $20,000 of cash to another lady who thought she was dating someone else. Why would an Israeli general need this kind of money, $20,000 cash, and why would you send it in a FedEx box?

Host: Van Sickle says con men aren’t always strangers. He said the list of perps include caretakers and nurses, doctors, attorneys, clergy and fellow worshipers and even family members. Detective Carlos Verdoni with the ECU says deeds are also theft targets.

Carlos Verdoni: Stolen deeds, we actually had another case of that where a gentleman broke into a home—this home was up for auction, they were trying to get it sold—stole the deed, and then tried to put the deed [unintelligible] on the house. And the reason why is that in his mind, if I break into this house and start making payments or start fixing it up, then I can become a squatter, and then it’s going to be harder to get rid of me.

Host: Verdoni said frequent checks of credit card statements and paying bills through the bank will help reduce fraud. Detective Verdoni said combating identity theft starts with limiting the number of credit cards and identity cards, including your social security card, that you carry in your wallet or purse. He said Americans carry more IDs around than they should.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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