WSVN — It’s a sobering reality during the holidays. Florida is the fraud capital of the country. But there is a way to avoid becoming a victim.

Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.

Travel and Leisure Magazine recently ranked Miami as having the most attractive people in the U.S. But there is an ugly side: we also attract a lot of scammers. South Florida ranks number one in the nation for identity theft and high on the list for other fraud and consumer complaints.

George Piro is the Miami FBI special agent in charge.

George Piro: “We have a large transient population with a high percentage of elderly and we have a lot of money flowing through South Florida.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, Florida is one of the top places for impostor scams where a crook poses as a government agent or representative from a big company.

Lauren Kaiden: Panic. It’s like not even. Just total panic.”

Lauren kaiden’s nightmare is enough to ruin anyone’s holiday season. It started with this voicemail:

Lauren Kaiden’s Voicemail: “Twenty-four hours we will be marking a lien on your assets and your bank accounts due to your inability to settle your dues with the IRS. A bill collection officer would visit you soon to complete the paperwork. If you have any questions then call our tax default line.”

The Coral Springs mother thought it had to be a mistake, so she called back to clear things up. Lauren didn’t know it, but the person on the other end wasn’t from the IRS. She was connected with a crook.

The fake agent told her she owed back taxes and if she didn’t pay, authorities would be at her door to arrest her.

Lauren Kaiden: “I was beyond scared. I truly — All I kept thinking in my mind was my girls, and how do I explain that mommy’s in custody?”

The fake agent told her to buy prepaid debit cards and give him the access numbers so he could collect the money. She bought 44 cards, spending her family’s life savings.

Lauren Kaiden: “$22,000. Once you’re in fear, that’s it.”

But authorities say there is no reason to fear. If you’re called by someone claiming to be with a federal agency and demanding money right now, it’s a scam. That’s not how the government operates.George Piro: “You wouldn’t be able to buy your way out of going to jail.”

And prepaid debit cards are not linked to traditional bank checking accounts, making them more attractive for crooks.

George Piro: “It is now the new mechanism, or vehicle, for these criminals to move their criminal proceeds.”

And those criminals don’t appear concerned about being caught.

The Coral Springs police officer investigating Lauren’s case called the same number she did. In his report, the officer wrote the man who answered “laughed” when he told him he was a police officer and “asked for my badge number.”

That attitude is based on the fact scammers know their chances of ever getting caught are next to zero. They are often out of the country and hide behind phone numbers impossible to trace.

Lauren Kaiden: “I want to raise awareness, because if this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone else.”

To make sure it doesn’t, remember if you get the call in 2015 simply, hang up.

Carmel Cafiero, 7News.

Internet Crime Complaint Center

Federal Trade Commission

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau


Miami-Dade: 305-627-CLUE

Broward: 954-921-CLUE


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