Since the first settlers hacked their way into the mangrove tangles and drained much of the swampland, sunny South Florida has been virtually synonymous with shady deals and scams.
The endlessly creative crooks come up with fake Jamaican lotteries, false marriages for immigration purposes, mediocre seafood marketed as better seafood, insurance rip-offs from fake accidents and fires — even foreign substandard cheese passed off as domestic top shelf. But the big money is in a trio of major fraud trends: Medicare, mortgage and identity theft-tax refunds.
By almost any measure, South Florida is the nation’s organized fraud capital, although authorities say it’s not entirely clear why.
“Is it the weather? Is it because it’s beautiful and the fraudsters want to live here? Is it because it’s such a melting pot and you have organized crime from all ethnic groups?” said Kelly Jackson, top agent in the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal investigative division in South Florida. “Any fraud, it always seems to start here.”
Paul George, a Miami-Dade College history professor who specializes in South Florida, noted that the region’s reputation as a haven for schemers dates to the land speculation boom of the 1920s, when alligator-infested swampland was marketed to Northerners as a slice of tropical paradise. Today, with the area such a melting pot, it’s no wonder South Florida is also a cauldron of creative crime, he said.
“It goes back to the roots of Miami. It’s always been a place for starting over again,” George said. “People move here either from the north or the south. People have some anonymity, maybe they think they can pull off something here.”
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