On a recent Tuesday morning, the fraud line rang and a local taxi driver reported his concern for an elderly passenger he believed was being scammed in a sweepstakes/lottery scheme. The driver became suspicious after the 82 year old woman requested he take her to the bank and then the post office on several different occasions. When a Sheriff’s Office Fraud Specialist met up with the senior citizen, it was confirmed she was indeed the victim of a lottery scam. Unfortunately, the victim had already mailed several thousands dollars in cash to the Jamaican scammer, but with the help of a U.S. Postal Inspector, the Sheriff’s Office was able to recover a portion of the victim’s funds.
Several days later, an astute bank manager contacted the fraud line to report that one of his customers – a 90 year old male - was withdrawing large sums of money and wiring the withdrawals out of the country in hopes of winning the lottery and a brand new car. Once again, a Fraud Specialist met with the victim and discovered that not only was he wiring money, he was also doing some personal shopping for the scammer as well. At the request of the heartless thief, the victim would regularly go to local stores and purchase items like phones, watches and underclothes and then mail the items to Jamaica. Sheriff’s officials assisted the man in changing his phone number and his bank accounts; however it is likely the scammer will not give up so easily.
These are sad but very true stories. Unfortunately, thousands of older adults around the country are taken advantage of on a daily basis, including right here in Lee County. In an attempt to give area residents, particularly seniors, a place to report these hideous crimes, the Sheriff’s Office implemented its very own “Fraud Line” in March, 2006. This phone line, manned by a Fraud Specialist, was the first local law enforcement operated line in the nation designated specifically to receive, develop and refer criminal complaints from residents who had been scammed; or an attempt was made to scam them.
In 2012, over 3,660 calls were made to the Fraud Line by concerned citizens, and that number is expected to rise in the coming year. In the first two months of 2013, the fraud line received over 500 phone calls and in the last three weeks the fraud line has averaged 99 calls per week. Complaints from residents include receiving fraudulent letters and checks in the mail, internet and romance scams, sweepstakes schemes, as well as credit card and identity theft.
“With older Americans losing more than $2.9 billion dollars a year to fraud, scams and exploitation; elder financial abuse is quickly becoming the crime of the 21st century”, said Sheriff Mike Scott. “We will continue our commitment to train and educate our residents in an effort to protect them from rotten individuals who prey on them.”
If you would like to report a fraud, scam or identity theft, contact the fraud line at 239-477-1242. If you would like a Fraud Specialist to speak to your organization or community group, please contact 239-477-1400.