Clearwater scammers deceive woman out of $27K

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A Clearwater couple is facing felony charges after detectives said they scammed an 84-year-old woman out of $27,000.

It started with a phone call about an extended car warranty. Detectives said a 34-year-old man and his 24-year-old girlfriend in Clearwater were able to deceive an 84-year-old woman in Connecticut into giving out her credit card number.

Clearwater Police Department Major Natalia Illich-Hailey said the suspects kept calling and over an 8-month stretch, they were able to con her into giving out seven different credit card numbers.

“They can be very persuasive. They call and can get personal information. That’s why the most important thing especially for the elderly community is if you don’t recognize a phone number don’t answer the phone,” Illich-Hailey explained. “The victim gave her credit card information over the phone, and they would go and make purchases. That credit card then would stop working and they would call her back and she would give them another credit card when she had one reissued.”

Detectives said the Clearwater couple racked up $27,000 in charges including 17 orders for food to go from Smokey Bones on Gulf To Bay Boulevard, expensive electronics from Best Buy on Drew Street near US-19 plus the suspects used the stolen credit card numbers to pay for their own car insurance and rent on their apartment at 500 Fairwood Avenue in Clearwater.

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Luckily, the victim’s daughter was diligent and while checking her mom’s credit card accounts she noticed that things didn’t add up when she saw several charges in Clearwater, Florida. Police were contacted and an investigation was launched.

Once police obtained a search warrant for the couple’s apartment, they were able to track down several of the items purchased from Best Buy online with the victim’s credit card number.

Detectives were also able to obtain surveillance video of the suspect picking up the items from Best Buy and was observed by an employee at Smokey Bones picking up the food and providing the victim’s name for the transaction.

The federal communications commission said scams involving extended car warranties have skyrocketed during the pandemic. It was the top scam nationwide in 2021.

Detectives said the scam can be convincing because the caller may have specific information about your car and the warranty that the dealership may use. They may also conceal their phone number with caller ID spoofing to make it look legitimate.

Detectives said you should never give out your personal information and if the caller seems particularly pushy, it should be a red flag. You also shouldn’t answer calls from numbers you don’t know. If the person leaves a voicemail, check into the company they claim to be with before returning the call.

Illich-Hailey also suggested checking your credit score, bank accounts and credit card statements often. “You really be checking every single month to see what accounts have been opened in your name and if you don’t recognize it call us and we’ll start doing the work,” she said.

Oftentimes, phone scammers are hard to catch and victims may never recover their money, but in this case, Clearwater Police Department anticipates they will be able to return most of the victim’s hard-earned cash.

“That’s always the best feeling to be able to have closure on a case but the work doesn’t stop here because we’re still looking to see whether they work for another company or if there is another ring of this. Often times when someone becomes victimized like this then their information is out there and they tend to get called by more people as well,” Illich-Hailey added.

Outside of contacting your local police department, you can also file a complaint with the FCC about suspected scam calls. In addition to being fraudulent in nature, the calls likely violate telemarketing and robocall rules. (See the FCC’s guide on Stopping Unwanted Calls and Texts.)

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