Scammers and con artists don’t take the holidays off.
That’s a message law enforcement agencies are passing along to South Tampa residents as the final push in the Christmas shopping season gets under way.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Bruce Crumpler says scams are a constant concern in the Bay area. Scammers, he said, choose a variety of ways to strike, too. They’ll target victims via the Internet, through emails, in phone calls, by going door-to-door and even by stopping them in store parking lots.
It’s the last one that has him particularly concerned as the holiday shopping season continues.
Con artists that target their victims in store parking lots tend to run high-end scams, he said. They tell a variety of tales, too; some quite sad.
“I had someone approach me in the parking lot” not too long ago, Crumpler said. “I had to say no. You don’t know what’s going on. Part of you wants to help,” but it could be “something more dangerous. You have to protect what you have.”
While scam attempts are a constant threat, Crumpler said activity does rise during the holiday season.
“Obviously during Christmas time, people are more open for giving,” he said. “Don’t give unless you know exactly who you’re giving to.”
Some of the more common scams that have been run in the Bay area in recent months include:
- The kidnapping scheme – In this scam, a person calls a victim and says a family member has been kidnapped. The caller demands money be wired for the safe release of the victim to occur. Crumpler said this particular scam had been pretty active recently, but has died down in the last month or so.
- Bank email and phone scams – This is an ongoing favorite of identity thieves. The bad guys either call or email a victim attempting to get bank account information. The cons represent themselves as bank officials in an attempt to trick their victims into willingly handing over their information.
- Purse snatchings – While this isn’t a scam technically, Crumpler said there have been a number of reports about purses being swiped from parked cars. “They’re stealing IDs and go to other counties to withdraw money out of a (victim's bank) account,” he said.
Pasco County officials say they see the same basic scams as those run in Hillsborough.
Sgt. Justin Ross has specific advice residents can use to avoid phone and email scams.
“Never respond to an email asking for personal information,” he said. “A legitimate company will never ask for this.”
In regard to phone calls from banks, he had this to say: “If you get a call from a company or a bank telling you of fraudulent activity, get the caller’s information then hang up,” he said. “Call your bank directly with a number that you know (look on the back of your card or the Internet to find the number). They will verify fraud or not.”
Both agencies ask that residents report scam attempts via their non-emergency lines. In Hillsborough, the number is 813-247-8200. In Pasco, it’s 727-844-7711.