Scammers targeting South Florida seniors, says chief of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade


By Beatrice Dupuy

A caller claiming he was with Publishers Clearing House told Al Pollans Friday he had won $3.5 million. The Bal Harbour retiree was wary — especially after the “employee’’ said Pollans, 81, would need to pay $25,000 to get his “prize.’’

Pollans isn’t alone. Across the region, South Floridians are the targets of an increasing number of scams, said Carmen Caldwell, executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade.

Telephone scams seem to be particularly prevalent in Northwest Miami-Dade, Caldwell said. The targets often appear to be seniors.

“People need to call their police department and not fall into the little game they're playing,” she said.

Publishers Clearing House is aware of the issue. On its website, the company states that it never asks for money to receive prizes and warns that scammers are even using the names of Publishers Clearing House employees to lure victims into their scheme.

Credit card holders also have been subject to scammers, who call knowing the name and address and try to get the card holders to reveal their Social Security numbers. Most credit card companies do not ask card holders to give up account numbers or Social Security numbers over the phone.

As soon as Pollans realized something seemed suspicious about the phone call, he alerted the police and the FBI. He is well aware of the dangers; in 2009, Pollans said his identity was stolen.

Phone calls are not the only way that scammers prey on South Florida residents. On Friday morning alone, Caldwell said, she received eight emails regarding fake notices advising the recipients they need to appear in court. The notices had attempts to gain personal information, including Social Security numbers.

Scammers also are using malware to infiltrate computers. Ernie Sochin, vice Mayor of Cutler Bay, had to purchase a new computer after his machine was taken over by hackers.

While he was in the hospital, Sochin’s wife, Rhoda, attempted to log on to their computer. A message then appeared on the screen informing her to pay $500 to access the computer. She headed to a Microsoft store, but employees gave her no guarantee they could rescue the family pictures on her hard drive.

“It forced me to buy a new computer,’’ she said.

Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade recommends not responding to scammers with any personal information. If you are hit with a scam, you can report it to your police department, the FBI, local crime watch or the office of the Florida attorney general,

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