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Detective's spin on stop sign intended to keep public safe from scammers

Idea came to Coral Springs detective while investigating potential phone scam

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – A South Florida economic crimes detective is working to stop scammers in their tracks by contacting you before you hand over your hard-earned cash.

It is a new idea in an effort to combat a classic con: the telephone scam.

THE IDEA

The idea came to Coral Springs police economic crimes Detective Karen Hallman while investigating a report of a potential telephone scam.

In this case, a Walgreens employee called police after a customer was going to buy gift cards related to an IRS imposter telephone scam. Hallman said the telephone con artist convinced the customer she was going to go to "jail" if she didn't pay.

Hallman said often these calls originate out-of-country or are conducted by foreign nationals making prosecuting cases and recovering money for victims impossible.

"Once you buy that gift card and you give that number over the phone, that is good as cash," Hallman said. "It's gone."

Thanks to that observant Walgreens employee and Coral Springs detectives, they were able to prevent the woman from falling victim to the con.

"A detective in our unit said, 'Wouldn't it be nice if there was a sign to tell people to stop doing this? And that's where it all originated," Hallman said. "Why don't we? Let's put that up. Let's make people stop doing this. Let's get them reading while they are standing in line or reading while they are waiting to buy these, and that's where it came to fruition."

STOP: DON'T BE THE VICTIM OF A TELEPHONE SCAM

A bright red fraud prevention sign in the hexagon shape of a traffic stop sign aims to grab a customer's attention.

Hallman has been working with area businesses like Walgreens and Walmart to place them in key locations, namely right at the cash register.

It asks if you are buying a prepaid debit card, MoneyGram, gift card or Western Union money transfer because you received a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS or FPL.

It also hits on other classic cons that ask for these types of payments, to include a caller claiming a loved one is in trouble or in jail, or an online sales scam in which the supposed buyer sends a check greater than the agreed to amount asking you to send some of the funds back via MoneyGram.

"Ask yourself," reads the poster, "have you ever paid one of these bills with a gift card, Western Union/MoneyGram? If not, be careful. You might be part of a scam."

CALL CHRISTINA COMMUNITY

"They identified themselves as the IRS," Local 10 News viewer Evelyn Llorente said. "They started telling me the IRS has a lawsuit against me."

The threatening call spooked the single mother.

"it was shocking to me," she said.

Llorente said she called a lawyer, who then instructed her to check the Call Christina page on Local10.com.

"He said go to (Local) 10 News and watch Christina and you'll see," Llorente said.

In recent weeks, Call Christina has warned viewers about scammers posing as the IRS, Florida Power & Light and even Miami police in an effort to scare them and steal their money.

Consistently, a red flag in these telephone scams is the way they claim people need to pay. If told to pay by prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer, be instantly suspicious.  

"They started to tell me that if I didn't pay them $4,000 with a debit card in 45 minutes, they would have a FBI officer having me arrested," Llorente said.

Hallman said the scam is fear-based.

"If they can instill enough fear, if you are scared, you are not going to think correctly or like you normally would," Hallman said. "Once they have you and they know you are afraid, they are excellent at what they do. Remember, they do this all day long. It is their job, eight hours a day, and they have perfected it and they know how to prey on your emotions."

Her hope with the new fraud prevention signs is to help people before they fall victim to this economic crime.

That's also what the Call Christina team strives to do. Llorente said after watching several Call Christina stories, she learned the call was a scam and didn't lose a penny.

"I watch you guys every day now," she said. "This won't happen to me again."