By LOIS KINDLE
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office wants residents to know the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t necessarily keeping criminals at bay.
Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry recently reported that two Sun City Center residents have recently fallen victim to two imposter scams, which involve a crook posing as someone they know who convinces them to send money.
One criminal purported to be Community Association President Sam Sudman and created an email through social engineering that looked like an authentic communication from him. The scam artist claimed money was owed for various association bills and dues, but rather than requesting a cash payment asked for $2,000 in Amazon gift cards instead.
The victim actually purchased the cards but before sending them realized something was fishy about the email. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office then instructed the victim to call Amazon and take the money off the cards and issue a refund.
“Because of the victim’s quick response and our subsequent quick follow-up, there was a happy ending,” Merry said. “That’s not usually the case.”
Another scammer pretended to be a local resident’s Facebook friend by cloning an account and promised the intended victim a larger stimulus payment if he was sent $2,000 in the form of e-Bay gift cards. The scammer even made it easy to send the cards by sending the victim links. This time, the victim couldn’t recoup his money.
“If anyone asks you to buy gift cards for them, STOP and call the sheriff’s office,” Merry said.
Merry also said the Romance Scam is still taking its toll on Sun City Center area residents. This one preys on a victim’s loneliness and may be one of the most insidious of scams.
While all scams are designed to trick people into giving away their money, a romance scam is particularly devastating because its victims, who are usually seniors who’ve lost a loved one and are longing for companionship, suffer emotional betrayal, as well as monetary loss.
Merry said local residents have given away hundreds of thousands of dollars and as much as $2.5 million to these scams. Some have lost their entire life savings to someone they think loves them, only to find they’ve been taken.
In a romance scam, the criminal contacts the intended victim through a popular dating site or via social media by building an authentic-looking profile. Once the contact is established, the scammer takes the victim off site and goes strictly to text messages.
Through lots of research, the thief learns all he or she can about the victim, pretends to be a perfect match and manipulates the person into providing even more information to help aid the scam.
Over a period of weeks, maybe months, a relationship is cultivated, and the crook gains the victim’s trust and confidence. Then the money requests begin.
Recently a Sun City Center resident sent three personal checks totaling $22,500 to a scammer over three days. That money will never be seen again, Merry said. The perpetrators of these crimes are, usually, somewhere overseas and, generally, impossible to trace.
To report any activity you think might be a scam or for more information, contact Merry at 813-242-5515. His office in the District 4 substation at Community Hall, Sun City Center, has reopened for appointments only by calling this same number.