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Florida: hotspot for fraud

Florida has long been known for flimflam, bogus swamp sales and Medicaid fraud. The days of snake oil salesmen may be over, but thieves and conmen still exist.  Not only do scammers and thieves want your money, they wouldn’t mind stealing and misusing your identity as well.

In 2014, Florida was home to seven of the top 20 metro areas for consumer fraud complaints.  The state is the third most populous in the country with an estimated 19.9 million inhabitants, but it also has the highest fraud rate out of any of the states.

Even while things are slowly getting better thanks to the quick reactions of law enforcement agencies within Florida, it is far from becoming a miniscule issue.

“Data breaches regularly expose sensitive personal information about millions of Florida consumers on cyber-crime black markets,” said John Breyault, vice president of the Consumers League. “Without reforms in Washington to better protect consumers’ data, high identity-theft rates could become the ‘new normal’ for consumers in Florida.”

What is it that makes Florida so attractive to cyber-criminals?

Breyault believes there are a host of reasons that the sunshine state appears promising to thieves and scammers.

The lack of state income tax means less scrutiny from state officials; the always-shifting population makes it easier for hit-and-run operators to blend in; the fast development of the state means there is a lot of money floating around and Florida’s large senior population provides a tempting target of savings and vulnerabilities, seniors are naturally less adept at protecting themselves when on the internet and to hackers, it is a opportunity not to pass up.

More than 200,000 fraud-related complaints were received from Floridians alone in 2014, giving the state the highest per-person rate in the nation.  It equates to roughly 1,007 complaints per 100,000 of the population.  The states that trailed behind Florida were Georgia and Nevada.

More than 37,000 Floridians reported identify theft, again pushing the state to claim the title with the highest rate – 186 complaints per 100,000 individuals – with Washington and Oregon following close behind Florida.

The majority of the problems seem to stem from the big metro areas, such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, which took the majority of the complaints, causing them to be the cities with the nation’s highest rate, 316 per 100,000.   However, following behind them was Seattle, St. Louis, Naples and the Tallahassee area.

How do Floridians protect themselves? While there is no exact way to completely live without the threat of having your identity stolen or your bank account hacked, there are ways to safeguard yourself from becoming an easy target of scammers and identity thieves.

Resist clicking on suspicious links or attachments in emails, text messages or on the web. These frequently contain malicious software that can hijack your computer and steal the sensitive information you have stored there, such as social security numbers, user-names, passwords and your, or your family’s dates of birth.

File taxes early.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identified tax-related identity theft as a number one outlet for victims to have their identity stolen. Scammers file in someone else’s name early in the tax season and collect fraudulent returns before the legitimate taxpayer has had a chance to file his or her return.

Create strong and unique passwords.  Use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols to make a password that is truly unique.  Common words or names in your passwords should be avoided, no matter how easy it is to remember them. Don’t use the same password across multiple websites.

Review credit reports regularly.  This will help you keep a good look on how your score is going; if something cannot be explained or shouldn’t be there, you will be able to catch it instead of it sliding past you.

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