“In February we told residents Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies do not call residents and instruct them to purchase any sort of debit card or money order to pay off a fine for missed jury duty, an outstanding warrant, missed court date fee, red-light ticket fine, or legal fee,” said Sheriff Grady Judd. “And unfortunately, we again have received information that someone is trying to swindle citizens using our agency’s name — don’t be fooled by this thief. No one at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office makes phone calls collecting alleged debts.”
The “Green Dot Money Pak Card” scam is being used by thieves across the county with similar reports out of New York, Georgia, Virginia, California, and Illinois within the first few weeks of May 2014.
In most cases, an unsuspecting victim will receive a phone call and the person on the other end of the phone introduces himself as a person in a position of authority; a law enforcement officer, a utility service provider, an agent with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or a Judicial representative.
The caller will then advise the victim there is an outstanding “red-light camera” fine, a missed jury date, a warrant, failed payment or any combination of possible payment fines or fees due. The caller then directs the victim to purchase a money order, or “Green Dot Money Pak Card” and provides them with a phone number to call back after the purchase.
A “Green Dot” debit card is a pre-paid card, not linked to a bank account. The card can be purchased at many retail stores for less than $5. While most retail stores have a limit to what amount can be “loaded” to the card, other options allow over $1,000.
Because the card and security numbers are not linked to a bank account, transactions are virtually invisible making the scam highly difficult to investigate.
Currently, PCSO detectives are investigating six reports in which an unknown subject called residents and identified himself as a “Polk County Deputy Major Stevens or Lieutenant Harper.”
The suspect informed the residents they had missed jury duty and a warrant would be issued for their arrest unless they traveled to CVS or Walgreens and got a “Green Dot Money Pak Card” for an amount of money the suspect listed. The suspect then instructs the victim to call the suspect back at a specific phone number and provide the confirmation number to the suspect.
Once the transaction is completed, the thief has the victim’s money, and the phone number has been disconnected leaving detectives little to investigate.
Unfortunately, there was one victim who fell prey to the scam losing $1,500.
The investigation into these incidents is ongoing.
The sheriff’s office reminds residents:
• Never give personal information to a stranger.
• Be suspicious of phone calls from people attempting to collect a debt. Look up the phone number of the organization the caller claims to represent (not the number on the caller ID) and check on your account. Legitimate service providers do not accept payment via pre-paid cards.
• Green Dot Corporation has its own tips for how to avoid fraud, and they discourage consumers from ever handing over a pre-paid card number to anyone.
• Seniors are considered easy prey to thieves, help keep elderly family members protected and prepared by informing them about this type of scam.
• Contact Law Enforcement if you receive suspicious “debt collecting” calls.
Fatal crash investigation underway
At about 12:05 a.m., on Friday, May 23, a blue, 2000, four-door Mercury operated by Paulette V. Singletary, 50, 615 2nd Ave., Waverly, was stopping in the center lane of southbound U.S. 27 at Dundee Road.
Singletary was approximately 10 feet short of the stop bar when her vehicle was struck from behind by a 2003, maroon, Ford F-150, operated by Sergio Maciel Rivera, 24, 324 Woodlawn Ave., Waverly, who was also southbound in the center lane of U.S. 27.
After being struck, the Mercury was directed forward — south — about 50 feet into the intersection as it also rotated counterclockwise. After impact, the pick-up truck continued south approximately 40 feet, coming to final rest in the intersection.
Immediately after the crash, the rear of the Mercury became engulfed in flames.
Lake Hamilton Police Department, Dundee Sheriff’s Office units, and Southeast District Patrol units responded to the scene and attempted to utilize fire extinguishers to put out the fire. Despite their efforts, the fire continued to burn. Dundee Fire Department arrived on scene and extinguished the flames — Singletary was deceased inside.
Rivera was still inside his vehicle when emergency responders arrived, however he was uninjured.
Deputies learned Rivera did not have a valid driver’s license. Rivera was arrested at the scene for operating a motor vehicle without a valid license that resulted in a death. He was transported to the county jail without incident.
Both drivers were seat belted at the time of the crash. The airbags in the pick-up truck deployed, but the airbags in the Mercury did not.
Excessive speed and distraction do not appear to be factors in the crash.
U.S. 27 traffic in both directions was restricted for approximately 5 hours.
The investigation is ongoing.
Detectives seek help in armed robbery investigation
At about 1:45 p.m., Thursday, May 22, a white man, described as being approximately 5-foot-11 to 6 feet tall, with a medium build, wearing a tan suit, hat, glasses, and white and blue basketball shoes entered the Wells Fargo Bank at 514 Cypress Gardens Blvd., Winter Haven, and passed a note to the teller demanding money.
The suspect fled the scene south on 6th Street SE.
Anyone with information should call Detective Alan Hogan at 863-298-6929 or 863-298-6900.