While the jury duty and fake notice to appear scam continues to be reported by Broward County Clerk of Court Howard Forman, police impersonators have now begun working the online dating scene by targeting unsuspecting daters, according to public information officer Keyla Concepción of the Broward Sheriff's Office on Tuesday.
Investigators at the Broward Sheriff's Office first learned of this scam in March and believe the suspects may have targeted more than a hundred victims. Because the scammers have targeted their victims by posing as law enforcement officers working cases of internet crimes against children, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also investigating.
Posing as daters, the scammers have engaged online dating and chat room victims in conversations, eventually asking them to send sexually explicit photographs.
Following receipt of a picture, the victim is advised that they have been engaged in conversation with a law enforcement officer at the Broward Sheriff's Office. Victims are further advised that the sexually explicit photo was received by a minor and that in order to avoid being arrested on a federal warrant, they must pay a fine by Western Union or money order.
As a county law enforcement agency, the Broward Sheriff's Office generally investigates state level and not federal type crimes.
Known as "sextortion," victims of this crime have paid between $500 and $1,500 to meet the scammers demands. In this variation of sexual blackmail, victims fear being publically shamed through publication of their sexually explicit photo and ridicule through arrest. Victims immediately remit the "fine" not aware that they have been scammed.
Lending a sense of urgency and legitimacy is the fact that the scammers are using the names of real law enforcement officers with the Broward Sheriff's Office. Threatened with arrest or prosecution, some victims have researched those contacting them through Google - and having verified their "legitmacy" - immediately send their fine.
Variations of this scam include those identifying themselves as United States Customs and Border Patrol agents attempting to buy medications online. Victims are told they are in violation of online pharmaceutical transactions for trafficking in Viagra, Codeine or other controlled substances. Ordered to pay a fine in order to avoid prosecution, many victims fall prey to this scam.
In the last several years, several instances of fraud utilizing court or law enforcement authorities have come to light. Between the fake red light camera scams, missed jury duty or notice to appear scams, the IRS collection scam, and the injured or incarcerated family member scam, each is carried out with a similar sense of urgency.
The Broward Sheriff's Office urges the public to be vigilant in recognizing potential scams. Remember that no law enforcement agency will ever contact you by telephone or e-mail to demand money or any other form of payment.
When online in a dating or chat room, caution should be used when conducting any online transaction. In addition, no personal information should ever be given out in response to an unsolicited phone call or e-mail.
Should you ever receive a phone call or e-mail claiming to be from a law enforcement or federal agent, immediately reject the demand and report any threat to your local law enforcement agency. In the case of an e-mail, never click on any link contained within it as any redirection may be a virus attempting to steal your personal information.
Anyone with information on this sextortion scam may contact the Strategic Investigation Division at (954) 831-8900. Anonymous tips can be reported to Crime Stoppers of Broward County at (954) 493-TIPS (8477).
As a nationally recognized credit repair and ID theft expert, Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.