BELLEAIR — For centuries, law enforcement agencies have striven to prevent perpetrators from unlawfully getting citizens’ personal belongs. These days, agencies also are trying to prevent perpetrators from getting into citizens’ heads.
Welcome to the sophisticated era of cybercrime.
Belleair Police Chief Rick Doyle said his officers are putting together a new fraud-education seminar that they plan to introduce early next year to town residents.
In the past 18 months in Belleair alone, residents ranging from age 19 to 90 have reported to have lost at least $250,000 in fraud cases.
“I suspected that number may be at least doubled or tripled, as many victims are too embarrassed to report the crime,” he said. “This is everybody in town from a 19-year-old buying gift cards, thinking he was going to make more money, to an IRS scheme where we have people putting $25,000 in cash in an envelope and mailing it to Canada.”
Doyle’s goal is to offer some assistance and education not offered in larger communities.
One Belleair officer already is a certified crime-prevention specialist and another is going to attend several required courses over the next year to earn certification. The Belleair Community Foundation is offering funding for the training.
About 75 to 80 percent of the money that was lost stems from cases in the residential planned development area, Doyle said.
“It’s like a bear that gets food. Once they find food, they keep going back to that source,” Doyle said.
He also wants to make it easier for residents to call and talk to police.
“Because some of these scams are very realistic, unfortunately, they just need somebody else to tell them, ‘No, your son wasn’t in an accident in New York. Give us his number and we will call and track him down for you. Don’t call these people back; we will handle it for you.’”
Doyle said officers are seeing a trend in more cybercrime and less of personal property crimes.
“Because the chances of somebody getting caught are much less,” he said.
In other matters, Doyle said his department is focusing on code enforcement efforts.
He said a piece property on Cypress Avenue is being cleaned up and remodeled by the new owners.
“This was a problem code property in town for the past three years,” Doyle said.
It was one of 68 properties in the past year with repetitive code violations that require more intensive enforcement resolution, he said, and the violations were more serious than having tall grass or broken fences.
“I thought it was kind of a high number for a town to have 68 residences that we have to continually go after and hammer,” Doyle said.
In other news
Town officials are preparing for several events, including the Community Wide Garage Sale on Saturday, Oct. 12, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. A map of locations will be published at www.townofbelleair.com/events the day before the sale.
Also slated is Belleair’s Halloween Bash on Saturday, Oct. 26, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Dimmitt Community Center. Varona Street between Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Osceola Road will be closed from noon to 10 p.m.
The event is tailored for children ages 12 and younger, including bounce houses, treat stops, glow dance party, costume contests and more.
Town officials discontinued having a haunted house as part of Halloween activities.
“Boy, that haunted house used to scare the hell out of me,” Mayor Gary Katica said.
And the fire marshal, too, said Town Manager J.P. Murphy.