As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, Southwest Florida law enforcement agencies are stepping up their game amid scam calls and emails tied to the conflict.
As charity scams are on the uptick nationwide, law enforcement agencies across Southwest Florida are alerting the community to be wary of potential Ukraine relief fundraising scam calls as scammers look to swindle those willing to help.
Russian invasion:Russia’s incursion reverberates in the halls of Artis—Naples
Ukraine protests:Protest in Naples over Russian aggression towards Ukraine
The Marco Island Police Department sounded the alarm on social media.
Although they put out the alert, Capt. Rich Stoltenborg said they haven’t received any incident reports in the city related to this.
“We continue to update the public on different scams that are out there,” Stoltenborg told the Daily News and The News-Press. “We’ve heard about these scams, and we just wanted to alert the public and beat them to the punch.”
If island residents fall victims to these types of scams, Stoltenborg said they should notify the police department although the scammers likely wouldn’t face charges locally.
On the other hand, the city of Naples, which hasn’t recorded any incidents tied to the invasion of Ukraine, would press charges against perpetrators if residents falls victim to one of these scams.
“We do see phone scams and everyone gets phone calls and things of that nature that are fraudulent requests,” said Lt. Brian McGinn, spokesperson for the Naples Police Department. “If someone claims to be from an organization, make sure you do your homework.”
Scams using a phone would be a felony in Florida, McGinn said.
“Where these become tricky, as far as getting those prosecutions, is originating the origin of the scam or of the individual that’s calling,” McGinn said. “Sometimes it can take quite a long investigation to do so.”
McGinn said sometimes there are a lot of search warrants and many investigative resources that could go into incidents.
“When it comes to these types of cases, the best defense is a good offense,” McGinn said. “That’s just by taking that extra time and doing your research and your homework so you don’t fall victim to one of these scams.”
Similarly, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Myers Police Department said they don’t have any incidents of this nature tied to the invasion of Ukraine yet.
“Our ‘Call Before You Pay’ fraud hotline has not received any calls relating to scams involving Ukraine or Russia,” said Karie Partington, spokesperson for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
In Lee County, Fort Myers Police Department spokesperson Kristin Capuzzi declined to comment given that they’ve received no reports for such incidents.
Who should you reach out to?
Southwest Florida residents are encouraged to reach out to the Better Business Bureau if they receive scam calls.
“If it’s a number you don’t recognize, please don’t answer it or let it go to voicemail,” said Sandra Guile, spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau.
Guile said that if it’s an unrecognizable voice, one should hang up before giving any personal, identifiable information.”
“These scammers are very, very tricky and they’re very convincing in what types of information they’re going after,” Guile said. “It could be your Social Security number … It could be credit card information … Banking information … They could come across as fundraising for an organization that sounds very familiar to you.”
She added that although the bureau doesn’t have any reports specifically tied to the Ukraine crisis, charity scams are up compared to last year.
In 2021, charity scams represented 0.4% compared to 0.51% so far this year, according to data provided by the Better Business Bureau.
Privacy experts suggest slowing down when we receive a call asking for immediate help.
“If someone says, ‘I’m stranded and I need your help right now,’ the reality is, although we want to participate and help … Getting our bearings, understanding how you’re engaging, and with whom, is really important,” said Michelle Finneran, chief executive officer at PrivacyCode, Inc., a privacy engineering platform that works to prevent cybercrime.
Tomas Rodriguez is a Breaking/Live News Reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. You can reach Tomas at TRodriguez@gannett.com or 772-333-5501. Follow him on Twitter @TomasFRoBeltran.