In the latest of a creative stream of scams affecting Manatee County residents, a phony Manatee County Sheriff's Office website was being used to bilk the public.
Sheriff's Office deputies — the real ones — said the fake site (Manatee-sheriff-org) had been shut down as of Sept. 25, but reported they have received another report from a citizen who received a call from someone claiming to be a Sheriff's Office employee.
The Sheriff's Office is hosting a Zoom presentation Oct. 9 to alert the public of various scams and more presentations are on the way.
The fake site was taken down after detectives located the domain and had the site removed. They continue to work to find the owner of the site and the scammers involved.
Scammers had called residents and claimed to be a Sheriff's Office employees. They would convince residents they owed fines or needed to submit payments for other reasons and would direct them to the fake website. They also would provide the ability to donate to charities.
In the messages, the scammers would use the names of real Sheriff's Office employees and would provide fake call-back numbers.
The Sheriff's Office asks the public to use caution when receiving calls from anyone claiming to be an employee of a law enforcement agency. Deputies would never ask for a payment over the phone.
Deputies discovered the scam when a potential victim walked into the Sheriff’s Office thinking he was supposed to pay a fine for missing jury duty. The person hadn't missed jury duty and was suspicious. A scammer had directed him to the fake website, where a link was supplied to pay fines or make donations.
An investigation was started that led to a the fake site, which is registered to a company in the Netherlands.
Randy Warren, a public information officer at the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, said he is unaware of anyone who has fallen victim to the scam, but he is asking anyone who has been contacted to reach out to the Sheriff’s Office immediately.
“Hopefully, they'll move on and just decide not to do this anymore,” Warren said of the scammers. “But we know that they're probably already working on other law enforcement agencies or other government agencies or other organizations that they feel they can use to tap into the trust that people have.”
Warren said people should watch their emails and texts for similar scams. He said the elderly are especially vulnerable.
“Never hesitate to just reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, is this really you guys?’” Warren said. “And in most cases, we're going to say, ‘No, it's not.’ Because that's just not the way we operate. We’re not out collecting money.”
To contact the Sheriff's Office about a suspected scam, call 747-3011.