Q&A with State Attorney, 7th Judicial Circuit, R.J. Larizza

Q: What can you tell us about fraud in our area?
A: Florida is arguably the leader in the country in fraud. This is partly because we have a lot of senior citizens who have worked their whole lives and then retire here — they’re natural targets for scammers who want to prey upon the vulnerable. Also, with the state’s booming economy, construction fraud is prevalent.

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell people to protect themselves against fraud. We are good at prosecuting, but we’d prefer to prevent fraud from happening. Don’t be a victim.

Q: Can you give us some more information about construction fraud?
A: There are several ways construction companies are fraudulent. They can take people’s deposits and then not pull a permit or do any work and then not be found. Or the construction company might utilize subcontractors and not pay them. The subcontractor can file a lien on the homeowner’s residence and the homeowner ends up paying twice.

Some tips would be:
Make sure your contractor is licensed. You can check with your county’s building and permitting department; they generally know if there are problems with a company. The Better Business Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce can also be resources.

Make sure your contractor is insured. Have them show you proof.

Don’t give a big deposit up front. This is a red flag; the company might not be financially viable to complete your job.

Q: Can you tell us about some of the latest credit card fraud you have seen?
A: Counterfeit credit cards are something we are seeing. Basically, the scammer will steal a bank debit card from those racks in the store. They wash off the identifying number on the front of the card and then buy stolen credit card information obtained from data breaches. They use an embosser to put the stolen information on the debit card and also can implant the information in the magnetic strip on the back. The credit card looks real — because it is a real card, but it has been altered with fraudulently obtained information.

Q: What are some other types of fraud to watch out for?
A: Ponzi schemes tend to work because some people get greedy. They want to make a lot of money fast, and that usually doesn’t happen. It’s important to use vetted, tried and true investment vehicles. Do your due diligence and don’t become a victim.

Of course there are the internet scams involving the Nigerian prince who wants to give you money or the big sweepstakes you’ve won … if you just give the sender a deposit. Scammers continue to send these emails because they can send so many. They only need one or two people to respond out of several thousand to be profitable.

A lot of scammers and fraudsters live out of the country and the odds of catching them are slim and the odds of getting your money back are even slimmer.

Q: Do you have any general advice to avoid being taken advantage of?
A: Prevention and protection are key. Use your credit card for purchases rather than your debit card. Credit card companies can give you chargebacks if you are scammed, but a fraudulent use of your debit card might empty out your bank account.

Our website (www.sao7.org) has more tips and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s website (www.myfloridalegal.com) has information on some of the latest scams.