Con artists bilking local citizens

OKEECHOBEE — The sheriff’s office has been bombarded recently with reports on several types of scams and, unfortunately, several victims.

The most frequent scam in recent days has been the IRS con. And even though there is more than one way to carry out this scam, three people in the last week have lost a combined total of $10,000.

Local citizens have also been separated from their hard-earned money while trying to buy a puppy, or posting an extra bond for a family member when it wasn’t necessary.

Deputy Joseph Hall, of the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO), indicated in his response that he handled a complaint filed by a 73-year-old man that he had lost $7,000 in the IRS scam.

“(He) told me he received a phone call from an individual stating they were from the IRS. (He) said the caller advised him there were some discrepancies in his 2011 taxes that he filed and he owes the IRS $7,000,” stated the report.

The caller went on to tell the elderly man if he didn’t pay that full amount on that day, April 22, he would be arrested.

Deputy Hall said the man went to a local business and purchased 14 money cards at a cost of $500 each.

After sending the money, the man went to a local tax preparation company and was told that he had been scammed.

He then called the IRS number given him, and was told other problems had been found with his taxes and that he needed to pay an additional $9,000.

Instead of paying that money, the victim contacted the sheriff’s office.

In a similar case, a local man was contacted by a purported IRS agent who said he owed $2,786 in back taxes.

But, stated Deputy Cody Hurst’s report, the victim told the con man he didn’t have that much money. All he had was $1,500. The victim was then told to purchase three iTunes gift cards in the amounts of $500 each, which is what the victim did.

After sending the $1,500 to the scammer, the victim realized he had been scammed.

This scenario was much the same for a 28-year-old Okeechobee woman who was told by a bogus IRS agent named Daisy Smith that she was behind in her tax payment, to the tune of $1,500.

When the victim told Smith she could pay over the phone, Smith transferred her to a man named Jeff. Jeff then told the victim the IRS does not accept credit or debit cards, but only iTunes gift cards.

He then directed the victim to go to a local Family Dollar store and purchase three, $500 gift cards. Jeff then stayed on the line with the victim until she purchased the cards and gave him the numbers on each card. Jeff then gave her a confirmation number of JK211, stated a report by OCSO Deputy Ryane Ammons.

Jeff also told the local woman she would need to go to 5971 Cattle Ranch Boulevard in Sarasota to show the cards in person. That address is the correct address for the IRS office in Sarasota, pointed out Deputy Ammons.

This case doesn’t stop there, however.

On April 25, the woman received her IRS tax refund check in the amount of $3,019. She then went to a local store to cash the check. Three days later Jeff contacted the woman again and, continued the deputy, he knew the amount of her tax refund, her telephone number and her Social Security number.

This case is under investigation.

In a different scam, a local 60-year-old man fell victim to a fraud when he tried to replace his pet dog after the animal had died.

OCSO Deputy Nathaniel Mitchell stated in his report the victim began looking for another dog on the internet. When he found one, he contacted the company — The company sent him a photo of a puppy named “Copper.”

The victim sent the company $820 and thought the dog “… was on his way.”

Instead, he received an email from a company named AJAREX Domestic Delivery and was told to contact a man named Thomas Zomotu Manta.

Now, the victim had to pay crate and shipping costs totalling $1,220, which he did.

By now, the puppy had cost the man a total of $2,040.

On Wednesday, May 4, the man was supposed to go to the airport in West Palm Beach and pick up his puppy. Instead, he was told there was now a fee of $1,770 for shipping the animal across state lines.

But, the victim finally realized what was going on and did not pay the bogus shipping fee.

“I figured I had been taken,” the man reportedly told Deputy Mitchell.

The victim told the deputy he tried to call the company, but the phone number was traced to a foreign country.

Besides Thomas Zomotu Manta, people using the names of Matthew Pierre and Fernandez Garrison were also involved in this con.

Finally, an Okeechobee man was released Wednesday, May 4, from the Okeechobee County Jail after posting bail. Later that night, he supposedly got a call from a local bail bond company saying he needed to pay an additional $1,000 or he would be put back in jail.

The young man then received a call from someone in Utah (phone number 435-210-4104) who claimed to be with the local sheriff’s office, stated a report by OCSO Deputy Chris Weeks. This caller told the man there was a mistake made on his release and the bonding company was unaware he was a flight risk, so he would have to pay the additional $1,000.

A third person called him from a number in Tennessee (phone number 432-377-4147) and told him to send the $1,000 via MoneyGram to a Carlos Scott at a Walmart store in Nevada.

The young man didn’t have the money so he went to his 75-year-old grandmother who agreed to loan him the cash. The money transfer, plus a $20 transfer fee, was made from the local Walmart store to the store in Nevada.

Later, after the transfer had gone through, the family realized it was all a ruse.

They then called the local bondsman who told them it was neither he nor his company that contacted them. The bail bondsman told them not to send the money, but it was too late.

Late Friday afternoon, May 6, OCSO public information officer Michele Bell said her agency had received more than 30 calls Friday from a number that has a (206) area code. Scammers were using multiple phone numbers from that area code.

She said the caller told the potential victim that he was with the IRS and that they owed money. And, if that money was not paid within 30 minutes, they would be arrested.

In cases like the IRS scam, it’s important to remember that federal agency will not contact you by phone or the internet. They will only contact you by the U.S. mail. Con artists, however, will not use the postal service because their actions can be traced.

“It’s not always easy to spot con artists,” said Michele Bell, OCSO public information officer. “They are smart, extremely persuasive and aggressive.

They invade your home through the telephone, the internet and the mail.

“Most people think they are too smart to fall for a scam. But, con artists rob all kinds of people. Cons, scams and frauds disproportionately victimize seniors with false promises of miracle cures, financial security and luxury prizes,” she added.

Before you part ways with your money, speak with your banker or contact local law enforcement.

If you live in the city, call the police department at 863-763-5521. If you live in the county, call the sheriff’s office at 863-763-3117.

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