Polk County, Florida -- A scam is going around in Polk County where scammers will say they are law enforcement or some other type of authority in order to get money from unsuspecting victims over the phone.
"In February we told residents Polk County Sheriff's Office deputies do not call residents and instruct them to purchase any sort of debit card or money order to pay off a fine for missed jury duty, an outstanding warrant, missed court date fee, red-light ticket fine, or legal fee," said Sheriff Grady Judd. "And unfortunately, we again have received information that someone is trying to swindle citizens using our agency's name – don't be fooled by this thief. No one at the Polk County Sheriff's Office makes phone calls collecting alleged debts."
The "Green Dot Money Pak Card" scam is being used by thieves across the county with similar reports out of New York, Georgia, Virginia, California, and Illinois within the first few weeks of May 2014.
In most cases, an unsuspecting victim will receive a phone call and the person on the other end of the phone introduces himself as a person in a position of authority; a law enforcement officer, a utility service provider, an agent with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or a Judicial representative.
The caller will then advise the victim there is an outstanding "red-light camera" fine, a missed jury date, a warrant, failed payment or any combination of possible payment fines or fees due. The caller then directs the victim to purchase a Money Order, or "Green Dot Money Pak Card" and provides them with a phone number to call back after the purchase.
A "Green Dot" debit card is a pre-paid card, not linked to a bank account. The card can be purchased at many retail stores for less than $5. While most retail stores have a limit to what amount can be "loaded" to the card, other options allow over $1,000.
Since the card and security numbers are not linked to a bank account, transactions are virtually invisible making the scam highly difficult to investigate.
Currently, PCSO detectives are investigating six reports in which an unknown subject called residents and identified himself as a "Polk County Deputy Major Stevens or Lieutenant Harper."
The suspect informed the residents they had missed jury duty and a warrant would be issued for their arrest unless they traveled to CVS or Walgreens and got a "Green Dot Money Pak Card" for an amount of money the suspect listed. The suspect then instructs the victim to call the suspect back at a specific phone number and provide the confirmation number to the suspect.
Once the transaction is completed, the thief has the victim's money, and the phone number has been disconnected leaving detectives little to investigate.
Unfortunately, there was one victim who fell prey to the scam losing $1,500. The investigation into these incidents is ongoing.
Please be reminded:
- Never give personal information to a stranger.
- Be suspicious of phone calls from people attempting to collect a debt. Look up the phone number of the organization the caller claims to represent (not the number on the caller ID) and check on your account. Legitimate service providers do not accept payment via prepaid cards.
- Green Dot Corporation has its own tips for how to avoid fraud, and they discourage consumers from ever handing over a prepaid card number to anyone.
- Seniors are considered easy prey to thieves, help keep elderly family members protected and prepared by informing them about this type of scam.
- Contact Law Enforcement if you receive suspicious "debt collecting" calls.