Recent wave of phone scams target UF students and Gainesville residents

Published: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 12:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 at 12:27 p.m.

Katie Cerchio was in her Campus Lodge apartment when she was awarded a $9,000 scholarship, but she wasn’t buying it.

A man from a Washington, D.C,. area code called her cell phone and told her that all she had to do to receive the money was front a $250 service fee. But something just didn’t seem quite right.

As the call transferred to a woman who said she would wire the money through the Western Union, Cerchio had her roommate Google search the information the woman was telling her, and within seconds, they realized it was a phone scam.

“I was hopeful for probably about two minutes before I thought it was a scam,” said Cerchio, a 21-year old University of Florida health education and behavior senior. “I told her ‘Ma’am are you aware of the federal grant scam that’s happening in the Gainesville and Jacksonville area?'”

After that, the woman, who gave the name Caroline Thomas, yelled “just forget the money” and hung up. Cerchio tried to call back, but the phone number no longer worked.

“I totally called her out,” Cerchio said. “I think she felt caught.”

Federal Trade Commission public affairs officer Frank Dorman wrote in an email that he wasn’t familiar with the scam that targeted Cerchio, but the FTC recently released some information identifying recent scams.

“They’re all pretty much the same in terms of what people should know in order to avoid them,” Dorman wrote.

He said anyone who encounters a phone scam should report it through the FTC Complaint Assistant at or call 1-877-382-4357, noting the phone number, date and any other information to help identify the scammers.

“Complaints help the agency identify patterns and perpetrators and law enforcement actions to stop them,” Dorman wrote.

Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Becky Butcher also said she wasn’t familiar with the grant scam, but ASO recently has been investigating the GRU Green Dot business scams that have been targeting local residents.

She said these scams are coming on caller ID as GRU, but they aren’t. Scammers are telling residents that their utility bill is overdue by $500, but if they buy a prepaid credit card, they can pay it over the phone.

“More times than not, it’s not legit,” Butcher said. “If you suspect that your account balance is overdue, call the electric company first to verify that information.”

Cerchio is now encouraging people to really think about who it is they are talking to over the phone and to not give out any bank account or personal information.

She said she has learned that if “It it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

For more information or for tips on how to identify scammers, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at

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