St. Pete Beach resident George Avery estimates he’s been the target of scammers at least seven times in the past year.
Five times it was scammers emailing him about alleged problems with his computer and twice it was phone calls regarding large sums of money – the so-called Nigerian scam.
“It really did surprise me,” he said of the number of times he’s been targeted.
Avery was among those attending a series of presentations on fraud by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s Economic Crimes Unit on Tuesday, November 15. The event was held at The Fountains in South Pasadena to mark international fraud-awareness week.
“This is to educate the public on what the current fraud scams are and lower their chances of being a victim,” said Sgt. John Spoor of the Economic Crimes Unit, who was moderating the presentations. “Eighty percent of my victims are over 55 years of age so we’re focusing on that demographic.”
Spoor added, “If I had to sum up my entire presentation in one sentence, it would be ‘Say no and hang up the phone.’”
Seniors tend to be targeted because they were raised to be more trusting, said Anna Marie Millett, a Pinellas County consumer protection investigator and outreach coordinator. They also tend to be more financially stable and don’t like to be rude.
“Now a-days you have to be very suspicious and not take everyone at their word,” she said during her presentation about different types of business scams. Most scammers are professionals who do this full-time and prey on the most vulnerable and most desperate, she said.
She focused on scammers who approach potential victims by knocking on their doors, though they also use the telephone, the internet and the mail to identify targets, she said.
“Don’t open the door to a stranger,” said Millett.
She stressed that anything the scammers might claim to be selling, ranging from a new roof, security system and water purifier to meat and magazines, can be purchased elsewhere and most likely at a lower price.
Here are some of the more common scams, according to Pinellas officials, and what to do:
“You’ve won”: Someone contacts you saying you’ve won something, but that you need to pay a fee such as customs duties or tax to claim it. Don’t pay it.
Charity fraud: You’re asked for a donation for a charity. Ask for information on the cause and verify it’s real. Don’t wire money or send cash.
IRS scam: Someone leaves an urgent recorded phone message telling you to call back to settle a “tax bill.” Don’t. The IRS will never demand payment over the phone or threaten to arrest you if you don’t agree to pay.
“Grandkid” scam: Someone calls claiming to be a grandchild in trouble who needs you to send money immediately. Don’t do anything without verifying they’re really who they say they are.
Health care scams: You see an ad on TV offering discounts on health care or someone asks you for your Medicare number to issue you a new card. Verify it’s true before sharing any personal information.
Online dating scams: You meet someone on a dating web site who wants you to communicate via private email or phone. They say they love you but live far away, then ask for money to visit you or for something urgent like emergency surgery. Never send money to someone you only know online.
Identity theft: Protect your personal information by shredding documents before throwing them out, using strong passwords online, and only giving your Social Security number when absolutely necessary. Check your account and benefit statements for accuracy.
To report a problem call the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office at 727-582-6200 and ask for the Economic Crimes Unit.