MONROE COUNTY, Fla. – The Monroe County Sheriff's Office is warning people to be aware of any person claiming to be a law enforcement officer over the phone who instructs them to purchase gift cards to avoid arrest.
A Sugarloaf Key resident was recently targeted by one such criminal, who falsely told him that he missed federal jury duty.
Authorities said the culprit identified himself as Officer Bobby Burkett and told the caller that if he paid a fake bond, he wouldn't be arrested.
The victim believed the caller because the man knew about a previous citation the victim had received. Authorities said there is an Officer Bobby Burkett employed by the MCSO, but the real Burkett has never had any interaction with the victim.
MCSO spokesman Adam Linhardt said the victim purchased $9,900 in Amazon, Google Play and Visa gift cards.
The victim said he became suspicious when the caller asked for another $10,000. By the time the victim realized he had been scammed, it was too late to cancel the cards or his bank account, Linhardt said.
Authorities said several similar incidents have recently been reported in the Florida Keys and thieves have posed as another law enforcement official, Sgt. David Smith.
In one incident Friday, a scammer called a Marathon man and made the same claim about missing jury duty.
This time, the caller identified himself as Derek Long and told the victim to stay on the phone as he drove to a pharmacy to purchase two $500 Money Pak gift cards, authorities said.
Linhardt said the scammer then told the victim to give him the numbers on the cards. He then told him one of the numbers didn't work and that he needed to purchase another $500 gift card, which the victim did, Linhardt said.
In yet another similar incident, authorities said a Marathon woman received a call from a man claiming to be from Comcast.
Linhardt said the man falsely told the woman her computer had been hacked, the hackers had her personal information and that she would need to buy a piece of electronic equipment from the computer manufacturer Dell in order to prevent the hack from occurring again.
"The next day, the caller, who identified himself as Josh Matthews, called the woman again and told her the equipment would cost $5,000," Linhardt said. "The woman stated she could not purchase the equipment. The man said he would be fired if she didn't buy the equipment."
Linhardt said the man gave the woman a number at Dell to call and another man on that line told the victim he would have the equipment delivered along with a check for $5,000.
"The fake Dell employee instructed the woman to cash the check and give the delivery driver $2,000 in cash. The woman agreed to do this," Linhardt said.
According to Linhardt, the woman called the first scammer a day later and told him she hadn't received the equipment.
He told her she would need to send six, $500 Google Play cards for the equipment to be shipped, but that she would be able to keep the entire check from the delivery driver.
The woman purchased the gift cards and gave the scammer the numbers for each gift card over the phone, Linhardt said.
The woman eventually told a friend about the incident, who told her that she had likely been scammed and to call authorities.
Linhardt said deputies contacted Google, but Google representatives said the gift cards had already been cashed.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office warns the public never to pay for anything over the phone using prepaid gift cards.
"If you receive such a call: hang up," Linhardt said. "Contact the organization the caller claims to be representing and report the incident to local law enforcement."