SUN CITY CENTER – Debbie Vijil has seen a lot during her first year as Sun City Center’s Community Service Officer. Every week she gets complaints from unsuspecting seniors who have become unwitting victims of identity theft and scams.
Vijil wants to do something about it. On May 22 she and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office will present a free, informational seminar from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at SCC United Methodist Church, 1210 Del Webb Blvd. W. The goal is to arm area residents with what they need to know to protect themselves from predators who con others through duplicity.
“These people prey on the emotions of some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Vijil said. “It usually starts with a phone call or email and ends up with victims losing their identities and potentially their life savings.”
Internet scams, investment schemes, bank fraud, exploitation of the elderly, advance fee schemes, credit card fraud and identity theft are all attempts to defraud people.
Examples include a call or email congratulating the receiver for winning the lotto and then asking for an upfront fee to get the check. Another is an invitation to become a mystery shopper, which requires a monthly fee to acquire an up-to-date list of interested retailers. Still another is the “grandmother” scam, where a skillful con artist pretends to be a grandson or granddaughter who has traveled abroad and been arrested or involved in an accident. Through adept questioning the scammer elicits information that convinces the victim the story is real, and then asks that cash, usually thousands of dollars, be sent immediately by wire transfer. There is no way to reverse the transaction, trace the money or recover payment, once it is completed.
“If you get a call a call like this, contact the parents or the grandchild before you send any money,” said Community Service Officer Barbara Jones, who is participating with Vijil in the seminar. “Or if you can’t get hold of anyone, call the sheriff’s office and we’ll talk you through it.”
Vijil and Jones will discuss these and other scams on May 22.
They will also offer lots of tips for protecting yourself against identity theft, including the following:
♦ Monitor your credit report to ensure the accuracy of your credit information and check your bank statement regularly.
♦ Never carry your Social Security card. If you lose your wallet, report it.
♦ Never give out personal information over the phone unless you initiate the call or actually know the caller. This especially applies to email requests.
♦ Never open an email from an unknown sender.
♦ To prevent unwittingly sharing your personal information, take outgoing mail to the post office and promptly pick up incoming mail.
Seating for the May 22 seminar is limited so reservations are needed, Vigil said. Sandwiches and cookies will be served, courtesy of South Bay Hospital and C1 Bank. Call (813) 242-5515.