What Are Florida Phone Scams?
Florida phone scams refer to acts of deception perpetrated over the phone with intent to unlawfully get confidential information or extort money from Florida residents. In most cases, phone scammers mask their identities and carry out their ploys via spam communication including live calls, pre-recorded robocalls, and text messages. Individuals can look up suspected phone numbers on phone lookup websites and applications to verify and expose scam callers' true identities.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) provides state residents with all the necessary information to identify phone scams and other related frauds and scams, such as mail scams and online scams. The FDACS highlights 19 prevalent frauds and scams in the state. A resident that receives a call, text, or email that is presumed to be a phone scam can call the Division of Consumer Services' toll-free helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) for assistance.
The FDACS has a Guide to Outsmarting Scammers, which provides Floridians with a basic understanding of how scammers work, the common tactics they use, and how to avoid becoming victims.
Common phones scams in Florida include:
- Tech Support Phone Scams - Here, the scammer calls the target and claims to be from a reputable tech company. They then make up a problem with the target’s computer and ask the target to provide remote access to their computer, pretending to run a diagnostic test. Then they try to make the target pay to fix a problem that does not exist.
- Charity scams - Charity scammers pretend to be representing genuine charity organizations by employing caller ID spoofing and then deceive individuals by making them believe they are donating to legitimate causes.
- Emergency scams - Mostly target grandparents; these scammers claim various emergencies and pretend to be the grandchildren of their targets. Made-up emergencies usually involve paying hospital bills, getting out of jail, and returning from foreign countries.
- Business opportunities scams - Here, the scammer presents the target with bogus business opportunities that appear to be profitable.
- Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams - Victims of this scam are deceived into believing that they have won foreign lotteries or sweepstakes and are required to pay to cover the taxes and fees associated with claiming the bogus prizes won.
What Are Florida Tax Scams?
In addition to the anxiety, worry, and overall stress that come with the tax season, it is also a period where fraudsters defraud unsuspecting residents using tax scams. Tax scammers con taxpayers by reaching out to them and claiming to from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These scammers impersonate officers of the IRS to get their victims to divulge confidential and financial records to use in identity theft or steal their assets. Tax scammers may sometimes use phishing, a scheme employing a clone website or deceptive email to get the victim into providing detailed personal or financial information such as name, date of birth, and Social Security number. Identity theft occurs when scammers use the information gathered to empty bank accounts, max out credit cards, and acquire credit in the victim’s name.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) emphasizes that the only genuine IRS website is www.irs.gov. Residents should make sure to only employ certified tax professionals to prepare and file their taxes. Also, note that the IRS does not contact individuals by email or phone to request detailed confidential financial information. Individuals can contact the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 to confirm suspected tax scams.
What Are Florida Phishing Scams?
This is a fraudulent practice where the scammers reach out to individuals through unsolicited calls, texts, and emails and pose as representatives or agents of reputable companies in order to persuade their targets to reveal confidential information. Confidential records requested and stolen include credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and Social Security numbers, passwords.
Scammers employing phishing use cloned websites and copy the trademarks and brand elements of reputable organizations to make their targets believe they are genuine. Some may even download malware on victims’ computers to steal their confidential records. To forestall this, keep the antivirus software on your computer regularly updated and secure your home and office computer networks. Always confirm the authenticity of requests regarding sensitive records before clicking on “update” or “confirm” buttons to verify your account information.
What Are Florida Telemarketing Frauds?
Fraudulent telemarketers lure their victims with very attractive foreign investment opportunities as well as lottery winnings, contest prizes, and “free” or “low-cost” vacations. The Federal Trade Commission reports that telemarketing fraud robs Americans of more than $40 billion yearly. It is necessary to verify whether the telemarketer contacting you is registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and if there have been any complaints filed against them before making a purchase over the phone. To do this, visit the Business/Complaint Lookup or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) en Español. The FDACS provides a list of exempted telemarketing companies and telemarketing salespeople. Here are some signs of telemarketing fraud:
- The incoming call does not display a caller ID.
- The offer sounds too good to be true.
- The caller claims an investment is risk-free.
- The caller requests the respondent's credit card number.
- The caller uses high-pressure sales tactics and demands an immediate decision.
- The caller suggests that the respondent buys or invests based on trust.
- The caller is reluctant to provide written details or references. Genuine telemarketers answer questions, provide written material to back up their claims, and give the consumer time to decide.
- The caller offers to send somebody to the respondent's home or office to pick up the payment or suggests the respondent sends it by overnight mail.
What are Government Imposters and Deceptive Advertisements Scams?
Fraudsters running this scam sell free government forms and convince businesses to file or obtain unnecessary paperwork for a fee. They make their targets pay illegal fees to file or get paperwork that is supposed to be provided free of charge by agencies such as the US Department of Education and the US Department of Labor.
At Florida’s 2018 Legislative Session, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services collaborated with the legislature to formulate the Government Imposter and Deceptive Advertisement Act (GIDAA). This Act is set to restrict companies from contacting residents without disclaimers declaring that the sales materials are not related to any government filing or that the information or forms can be obtained free of charge.
The GIDAA considers sending or posting any advertisement that forges a court summons, complaint, jury notice, or other judicial documents as illegal. Also, falsely representing a company associated with a government entity or companies endorsed by government agencies is prohibited. Violations may attract significant civil fines, administrative fines up to $10,000 per violation, or both. GIDAA grants individuals and businesses the right to bring an action to implement the act and seek punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs. These provisions became effective on July 1, 2018.
How Do I Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Phone Scam?
- Be aware - Know that phone scammers target almost everyone, and anyone can be a victim of a phone scam. Sometimes calls from unknown telephone numbers and other unsolicited communications may be from fraudsters. In this case, be sure to confirm the caller’s identity and not divulge any personal information to the caller, regardless of how convincing they sound. Persons that get such calls may as well ignore calls from numbers that look suspicious.
- Know that banks, utility companies and other reputable organizations never ask for client’s confidential information over the phone - It is against the standard practice of legitimate organizations to request for passwords, login details, financial data, Social Security number, and other sensitive personal information via phone calls, emails, or text messages. Communications of such nature mostly have fraudulent intent and should be ignored, even when the caller threatens legal or disciplinary actions for non-compliance.
- Register on the Do Not Call Registry - Floridians that receive lots of unsolicited calls can block out such calls by Subscribing to Florida Do Not Call List. There is also a National Do Not Call Registry, where interested individuals can register their phone numbers. These two registries restrict telemarketing representatives and other legitimate organizations from calling listed telephone numbers registered. Both registries do not block out scam calls, but they can reduce the number of unsolicited calls received.
- File a complaint when suspicious calls are received - Visit the Business/Complaint Lookup of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) en Español to lodge a complaint. Suspicions of fraud and identity theft can also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Beware of making quick purchase decisions or accepting offers over the phone - Always take the time to properly research proposed business offers before accepting them. Most offers that appear too good to be true end up being scams.
- Do not answer robocalls - If these calls are unknowingly answered, individuals should hang up as soon they realize what they are. Also do not follow instructions given during robocalls.
- Terminate the call if the caller is reluctant to identify themselves - Even after revealing their identity, ask more questions to confirm the caller’s claims and intent.
- Avoid connecting to free unprotected public Wi-Fi - Hackers exploit such networks to steal personal information from unsuspecting users.
- Subscribe to get up-to-date information on trends in phone scams - Be updated on latest phone scams in the state with consumer information on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website or subscribe to get free email alerts from the FTC email service.
- Engage the service of phone lookup services or reverse phone number search - With reverse phone number lookup, individuals can look up telephone numbers of callers that they believe have malicious or fraudulent intentions.