Fraud in Florida: Sunshine State No. 1 in consumer and identity theft complaints

WSVN — It’s a dubious distinction: Florida leads the nation when it comes to fraud, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. In tonight’s Carmel on the Case, a look at some of the scams from this year and how to avoid them next year.
   
Debt collection, impostor scams, sweepstakes and lotteries. They’re just a few of the top complaints that have cost Floridians big bucks. Even when we spot a scam, it can be a problem.

Listen to this voice mail.

Scammer voice mail: "I’m gonna (expletive) your wife, I’m gonna (expletive) your daughter, I’m gonna (expletive) your grandson or granddaughter."

Eric Sprague says the voice mail came from a fraudster who tried to convince him he had been selected to receive a $9,000 government grant, but would need to first wire $200.

Eric Sprague: "I said, ‘Look, come on. The money that you want from me, is that going for terrorism?’ Click … and then, two minutes later, I got this."

Scammer voice mail: "I’m gonna blow a bomb on your house. I’m gonna blow a bomb tonight on your house."

The former soldier says the threat didn’t scare him, but authorities say threats like that can frighten folks.  

John Tobon, Homeland Security Investigations: "It’s very, very scary. You think about the proposition of having somebody call you irate and say, ‘I know where you live.’"

Another kind of fear factor has been used in the massive IRS impostor scam. Con artists tell targets they’re about to be arrested if they don’t pay up.   

IRS scam voice mail: "Hi, this is Officer John White from the IRS department. The reason for this call is to inform you that the IRS has issued an arrest warrant against you, and your physical address is under federal investigation."

In the past two years, Floridians have reported more than $1.3 million in losses in this scam alone.

Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Florida: "The IRS will not call you to tell you that, if you don’t pay a fine, they are going to arrest you for not having filed your returns. Those kinds of scams are exploding all over the country."

Another scam that’s exploded is tech support. Fast talkers charge people money to fix nonexistent problems on their computers.

‘Steve:’ "Some infections, like adware, spyware, (inaudible), malware, they come and get installed into your computer."

7News caught one in the act with the help of a real computer expert.

Carmel Cafiero: "The whole issue here is that people who do not understand what’s going on with computers get calls like yours."

‘Steve:’ "Yo, whoa, no. You have got wrong concept."

Carmel Cafiero: "Oh, I do? And what’s the correct concept?"

‘Steve:’ "Yes, correct concept, I will let you know."

He never did.  

Carmel Cafiero: "But even if we are good at spotting a scam in the works, we can still end up as victims. That’s because Florida also leads the nation in identity theft."

Even federal officials are not immune.

John Tobon: "Everybody can be a victim to it. As a government employee, I am a victim of identity theft. They stole my identity three times in the last year."

That breach was part of a massive hack of federal employee data.

Officials say we should all guard our information like a state secret. For example, if you have a health insurance card, officials say you do not have to give your social security number to a doctor’s office or hospital.

John Tobon: "It’s not so much from somebody picking your pocket in a crowded mall where your identity is going to be stolen. It’s actually going to be stolen from a place where you were asked to provide that information."

Maybe we should all think about adding security and skepticism to our list of New Year’s resolutions.

Carmel Cafiero, 7News.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Internet Crime Complaint Center:
www.ic3.gov

Federal Trade Commission:
http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts

IRS Impostor Scam:
https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/

Tech Support Scam:
http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0346-tech-support-scams

Identity Theft:
https://www.identitytheft.gov/

IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE:

Miami-Dade: 305-627-CLUE
Broward: 954-921-CLUE
E-mail: clue@wsvn.com
You can also send a tweet to @carmelonthecase