Okeechobee residents advised to beware of scams

Members of the Okeechobee community were again the target of scams and fraudulent activity.
According to an incident report by Officer Jessica Francis of the Okeechobee Police Department, at 10:11 a.m. on Saturday, June 23, she responded to a Northwest Fourth Street home in regard to a fraud complaint.

Officer Francis met with the 51-year-old complainant, who reportedly informed the officer that she had received a phone call from “Jesse Cortez from Publisher’s Clearing House” stating she won a sweepstakes but needed to provide a process fee to collect the winnings.

Cortez reportedly requested that the woman go to Walmart and use MoneyGram to send the fee, which she reported to law enforcement cost her $293.50. A day later, the woman was contacted again for a second fee request. The complainant reportedly told Officer Francis that she went to CVS Pharmacy and used MoneyGram again, with a total cost of $63.50.

One day after the woman sent the money from the pharmacy, she was contacted again by Cortez, who said that the MoneyGram from Walmart had incorrect spelling and he was unable to pick up the money. The complainant reportedly became suspicious after hearing this and went to Walmart to verify the money had not been picked up. When the woman was informed it had not been picked up, she then decided to cancel the MoneyGram.

The report concluded that the MoneyGram sent from the pharmacy had been picked up. The complainant stated they never fall for these types of scams but did so this time and wanted law enforcement to make a report of it.

According to an incident report by Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Deputy Timothy Miller, at 5:52 p.m. on Tuesday, June 19, he responded to a Southeast 35th Lane residence in regard to an attempted fraud complaint.

Deputy Miller met with the 62-year-old complainant, who reportedly informed him that her mother had received what appeared to be a fraudulent letter in the mail from Publisher’s Clearing House.
The woman’s daughter knew the letter to be fraudulent, however, because it requested that money be sent to receive money. The complainant’s mother — to whom the letter was addressed — was reportedly unaware of the scam until her daughter informed her.

The report concluded that the two women wished for a report of the incident to be documented. Deputy Miller was provided with the letter and fake check issued from “Protected Trust LLC,” which was then reported to be submitted into evidence for proper handling.

According to an incident report by Deputy Tim Higgins of OCSO, at 4:46 p.m. on Monday, June 18, he responded to a Northwest Fourth Street home in regard to a fraud complaint.

The 73-year-old complainant told the deputy that he’d received a telephone call from an unknown number, with the caller claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They informed the man that he was $6,000 delinquent in the payment of his taxes and that if no effort was made to pay back the amount, they would have the man arrested on a warrant that supposedly already had been issued.

The party purporting to be from the IRS told the man to buy two Google Play Gift Cards with $200 on one card and $500 on the other. The man remained on the phone while he drove to Walmart and purchased the cards. He then provided the serial numbers on the back of the card as requested from the unknown entity.

The “IRS” entity then informed the complainant that he would not be arrested since he did what they requested from him and the call ended. The complainant then reportedly thought he might have been the victim of a scam, but was afraid at first to report the incident to law enforcement because of the supposed warrant. The man also apparently tried to call the number back, but it would not work when dialed.

Deputy Higgins’ report finished by stating that the complainant was not sure if anything could be done about the incident but wished to have it reported. The man was informed that it would be difficult for law enforcement to locate or gather additional information due to the difficult nature of the scam.

Last month, OCSO publicized examples of scams and warned the community not to fall victim to them:

• The Internal Revenue Service will never call you on the phone and state you must pay or be arrested.

• A law enforcement agency will never call and say there is a warrant for your arrest but if you pay, they will dismiss it.

• If someone says they need your help to cash a check because they have no identification, say “no” and walk away or hang up the phone.

• If someone contacts you and tells you that your grandchild is in jail and needs bond money, stop. Contact other relatives and verify that your loved one is in jail.

• The Social Security Administration will not contact you and ask for money.

• If someone claims they have won the lottery and need your help to collect the money, walk away or hang up the phone.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

The Lake Okeechobee News is published every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and now includes news from around the lake every Wednesday.

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