Fraud rings and scam artists abound on Facebook and Craigslist, and often impersonate Amazon, banks, the Internal Revenue Service and the police to try to bilk Gulfport residents out of money this year.
Gulfport police say con artists have also used Gulfport residents’ identities to apply for unemployment insurance and credit cards. Police have seen 35 fraud and scam complaints so far in 2021. Con artists have also impersonated U.S. Border Patrol and IRS agents, financial institutions, rental agents and Amazon representatives to scam local residents out of money, credit card information and identities.
The police have also seen one internet romance fraud— referred to as a sweetheart scam — this year, according to local crime statistics.
Some of the unemployment benefit scams stem from increased payments to workers who lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. States across the country, including Florida, have seen significant upswings in unemployment fraud during the pandemic.
State economic agencies and prosecutors have probed scores of unemployment insurance accounts for fraud and identity theft.
Some of the local scams targeting residents — including those related to Facebook, Amazon and Craigslist — are tied to e-commerce, fake gift cards and bogus vacation and housing rentals, according to police.
Gulfport Police Sgt. Thomas Woodman said while the scams may be different, they have one thing in common:
“People who fall for them,” Woodman said. “Without that, scams wouldn’t be successful. As scams continue to vary and alternate in methods, it is difficult to keep up with them, however, the public has to do their due diligence in dealing with the scammers.”
Woodman said residents should look for “red flags” when they receive calls and social media posts.
“If you didn’t play the lottery, you certainly didn’t win it and shouldn’t be sending money to claim your winnings. We have sent out information in the past to try and curb this but there will always be those that fall prey,“ Woodman said.
The rise in scams is not isolated to Pinellas County, or even Florida. The FBI and federal prosecutors have recently warned about fraud rings related to adoptions and veterans. There’s also been an upswing of scams involving fraudsters posing as police, prosecutors and attorneys trying to convince potential victims, often seniors, that they or family members are facing criminal charges.
Those schemes look to get victims to make payments, usually online, for bail and attorney fees. Florida, with its largest senior population, has been a prime target.