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Pinellas Sheriff’s Office outlines new twist in scams


Monday, November 14, 2016 4:20pm

A brazen scam has popped up in Pinellas County.

It goes like this, authorities say: someone calls, claiming they’re from your bank. You need to change your debit card, the caller says, then offers to send a bank representative to your house. The fake representative comes by, takes your card and PIN, and promises a new one is on the way.

“Once they’ve obtained the debit card and PIN number, they’re off to the races here,” said Sgt. John Spoor of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office economic crimes unit. “I’ve never seen a suspect so brazen to go into a victim’s home.”

Detectives have seen three of these cases in the last two weeks with the same suspect. They want to help prevent more people from falling victim to this and other scams by holding a series of workshops this week in conjunction with Pinellas County Consumer Services.

The first, held Monday morning at the Peacock Center in Seminole Garden Apartments, included information and tips on common scams. These days, facilitators work through websites or use fake phone numbers, said Gwen Young, an investigative assistant at the sheriff’s office.

They claim you’ve won millions of dollars that you can get if you wire over a few thousand to cover taxes or they impersonate your grandson, stuck in jail in some far away country in desperate need of bail money.

“The minute that we think we can’t be tricked or fooled is the minute we’re most susceptible,” Young said.

The scams often target elderly people. At the workshop, Lorraine Roberts, 83, was one of about 40 people showed up.

“It’s amazing what people will fall for,” she said.

“It’s amazing what people will try,” said her friend, 81-year-old Marybelle DeWandler.

That’s exactly why the newest debit card scam is so concerning, Spoor said. The suspect is described as a 30-year-old black woman standing at 5-feet-7 with a thin build. The sheriff’s office asks anyone with information to call Detective J. Holden at (727) 582-6200.

In the meantime, Spoor said people should check in with their bank and alert law enforcement if they encounter this type of scam. Know that a bank is never going to send someone to your home, he said, and no matter what, don’t give out your PIN.

“If they’re that brazen to get the card at the house, where do they stop?” he said. “How far do they take it?”

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 445-4157 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

The fraud workshops, which also include free paper shredding, will run the rest of this week at these locations:

* Tuesday: Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, 1255 Pasadena Ave. S, St. Petersburg;

* Wednesday: Five Towns Community Magnolia Sun Center, 7950 58th Ave. N, St. Petersburg;

* Thursday: On Top of the World, 2069 World Parkway Blvd. E in Clearwater;

* Friday: Palm Harbor Community Center, 1500 16th St. N.

Tips to avoid scams:

* Don’t trust your caller ID

* Don’t answer the door if you’re not expecting anyone

* Monitor your bank account and credit activity regularly

* Shred personal documents on a regular basis

* Contact a government agency or someone you trust before wiring money

* Verify that professionals such as contractors and real estate agents are licensed through the county or state

* Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce telemarketing calls

* Never give out your PIN

Pinellas Sheriff’s Office outlines new twist in scams 11/14/16
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© 2016 Tampa Bay Times

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