Criminals and scam artists constantly are targeting The Villages – and that means many of you could be at risk of losing valuables and even thousands upon thousands of dollars you’ve put aside for enjoying the best years of your lives.
That message came across loud and clear recently when Lady Lake Detective Butch Perdue warned the Village Center Community Development District Board of Supervisors that criminals have their sights set on the mega-retirement community. The veteran detective said the demographics here are luring criminals in from out of the area.
“They come here because ‘everybody knows The Villages is full of old people and we can get away with it,’” Perdue said.
The types of crimes that are on the rise here are golf cart thefts, vehicle burglaries – and even organized theft at area stores.
If you don’t believe that, then consider this: Four women from Tampa – yes, Tampa! – were recently busted after an alleged heist at ULTA Beauty in Lady Lake.
The group of women were identified as perfume thieves and their MO was simple – one became angry and argumentative and created a distraction while the others seized expensive bottles of perfume. The women then ran to the parking lot and fled the scene with $3,000 worth of merchandise.
Luckily, they were soon spotted at Kohl’s in Tavares attempting to pull off another caper and were nabbed by Tavares police and Lake County sheriff’s deputies. But the message is clear – The Villages is booming and it’s clearly become a target for those with less-than-admirable goals in life.
Perdue also pointed out that the heist at ULTA wasn’t a random incident.
“It’s not a spontaneous crime. It’s well thought out,” he said.
Luckily, Perdue said, Villagers and area residents can make a difference when they see things like the loud argumentative women at ULTA who appeared to be out of place. He encouraged everyone to be extremely observant and pointed out that most people are carrying cell phones with cameras.
“Whip that camera out,” he said. “At a safe distance.”
Of course, another issue Villagers must be on the lookout for are the plethora of scams that target them on a daily basis. There are many and they come in a variety of methods. But the important thing to remember is this – if it sounds too good to be true, then it’s probably best to run the other way.
Some of the more popular scams to be on the lookout for include:
- Grandparent scam: Typically, a grandparent receives a phone call late at night from someone claiming to be one of his or her grandchildren. The phony grandchild is in a panic, saying that it’s an emergency situation and he/she needs money immediately. The sense of urgency makes concerned grandparents act quickly, without verifying who is calling.
- IRS scam: Victims are told they owe money to the Internal Revenue Service and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. The IRS never calls people on the phone about delinquent taxes, so the best bet is simply to hang up – immediately!
- Social Security scam: You get a phone call or email claiming your Social Security number has been compromised, sometimes from people claiming to be FBI agents. You’re then instructed to purchase several hundred dollars in gift cards in order to protect your bank account. You then give the scammer the card numbers over the phone and suddenly you are out of large sums of money.
Phishing: This is widespread internet and email scam where digital thieves lure victims into divulging password information through convincing emails and web pages. The next thing you know, your bank account is empty.
- Nigerian scam: You get an email claiming to be from a member of a wealthy Nigerian family trying to get a large sum of money out of their country. They will promise you a large cut of the money if you help with “legal” and other fees – all of which isn’t true.
- Lottery scam: If you get an email telling you to claim lottery winnings by paying a “processing” fee of several thousand dollars, it’s a hoax. Many times, those who receive this email didn’t even play the lottery to start with.
- For sale scam: Scammers respond to ads for expensive items for sale asking for contact information. The scammer will re-contact you a day or so later and inform you that they mistakenly sent more money than you were asking for or offering to pay much more than your asking price. In return, you are to send them the cash for the difference. The check or money order you receive looks real so you deposit it into your account. In a couple of days, your bank informs you that the check or money order was fake and demands you pay that amount back immediately.
- Gas pump skimmers: These devices are placed either inside gas pump or externally over the box where a consumer inserts credit or debit cards. They then extract the card number and you are in for a world of problems going forward. To avoid this issue, touch the box where you put your card. If it is loose, it may be a skimmer box. Also, use the pumps closest to the front window of the station, as those are the least likely to have been tampered with. Or pay with a credit card instead of a debit card so that you have the opportunity to dispute the charge rather than having the money come out of your bank account immediately.
- Romance scam: Someone establishes an online relationship for weeks, months and sometimes years, but eventually they ask for money. The biggest red flag is the person never being available to meet in person. Women over the age of 60 are by far and away the most scammed group.
- Gift card scam: There are a variety of these in which residents are asked to provide payment in the form of some type of gift card, oftentimes from companies like iTunes and Amazon. No legitimate business or government agency will ever ask for such a thing, so simply hang up.
- Veterans scam: Using sophisticated technology, scammers are generating calls that appear on caller ID systems to come from the Department of Veterans Affairs. They claim to be calling to confirm personal information for benefit purposes. Sometimes they will leave voicemails saying your VA profile was flagged for potential benefits and you need to call back as soon as possible. Don’t call back but make sure to inform law enforcement at a non-emergency number and file a complaint with the FCC at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.
- Utility scam: Villagers and other area residents have been targeted in the past by scammers posing as SECO Energy employees offering energy inspections to help save money on monthly utility bills. Those aren’t legitimate and SECO encourages customers to report those calls at (352) 793-3801.
- Law enforcement imposter scam: Scammers use technology to disguise the name and number displayed on their caller IDs and create the appearance that a law enforcement agency or other government entity with authority is making a request. In recent cases, the imposters wanted people to believe the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was requiring immediate payments or they would face legal ramifications. Anyone targeted by those scams is asked to call (866) 9NO-SCAM.”
Going forward, it’s imperative that Villagers and area residents stay on top of the latest scams. There will, no doubt, be many more to come. But please stay diligent and make sure to “like” the Seniors vs. Crime Facebook page for pertinent, up-to-date scam information. You can do so at this link: https://www.facebook.com/seniorsvscrimeregion4/