CORAL SPRINGS, FL – In one incident, a person called a Coral Springs resident to tell him that his electrical bill was overdue, and he needed to pay $980 -- right away.
In another call, someone else phoned a different city resident that a federal agent found out his personal information was being illegally used, and he had to immediately send over $9,800 in gift cards to take care of the matter.
These incidents were all scams that happened in November and December, according to Coral Springs police records.
They are just a snapshot of the weekly -- and at times daily -- calls city police detectives get from residents falling victim to various phone scams.
Last week, the city police department issued an alert urging residents to be careful when getting calls from unknown numbers.
Recent swindles included scammers claiming to be law enforcement agents working with U.S. Internal Revenue Service or Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Det. Jason DeLuca, of the department’s economic crimes unit, said he investigates three to four incidents a month in which victims were bilked out of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
His rule of thumb for someone getting an unknown call on their home phone or cell: “Be suspicious of it.”
With new internet technology, crooks from anywhere in the world can create local numbers to deceive people to pick up their phones and then pressure them into paying, he said.
The scams run the gamut, he said. Some are relatively simple with a fraudster seeking anyone to answer a call. Others are more elaborate when crooks do research and target their victims, often knowing their names and family members.
“You should never trust a call you receive,” he said. “The best bet is to hang up and call the police department.”
According to the F.B.I.’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, total losses reported due to scams increased to $3.5 billion in 2019, up from $1.4 billion in 2017.
That includes victims in Coral Springs.
A review of three police incident reports provided by DeLuca found that victims called police after they were scammed.
In all three incidents, police closed out the cases because they were unable to track down the fraudsters.
On Dec. 2, a victim told investigators that a woman called him about an unpaid $980 bill from Florida Power & Light, according to an incident report.
He was told to go to a Western Union office and make the payment.
Even though the victim assumed his FPL account was not in arrears, he still made the payment.
After making the payment and realizing his utility account was up to date, he called the woman who demanded the money, but her number was already disconnected.
Before that, on Nov. 11, another city resident got a call from someone claiming to be a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, according to another incident report.
The caller told the victim that his personal information was being used improperly, and he needed to pay $9,800 to clear his name.
According to the report, the victim followed the caller’s instructions – go to a Target store, purchase gift cards worth $9,800, and call the “DEA” with the number provided.
After making the call and providing the data on the gift cards, the victim was suddenly disconnected.
The victim became suspicious and called Target to check on the gift cards.
But, by then, the gift cards already had been used.
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