MIRAMAR BEACH — It seemed like a typical afternoon for Brytney Bundren when on Aug. 31 she parked her Dodge Caravan outside US Gold Gymnastics.
When the mother of five returned 90 minutes later, the rear driver's side window had been shattered and her leather designer purse was gone.
“Our kids were terrified when we got out there," Bundren said. "They thought that someone targeted our car and our family."
The thieve(s) promptly forged and cashed Bundren's personal checks, stealing $5,000 and overdrawing her account.
Bundren was not alone. Others had been targeted in Walton County, with another “smash and grab” reported the same day 2 miles east at Creative Learning Center.
Fraud and identity theft are statewide problems. More fraud complaints are made in Florida than any other state, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Last year, 269,117 fraud complaints were filed — or 1,306 complaints out of every 100,000 residents. And when it comes to most identity theft complaints, Florida ranks second to Michigan.
The high fraud complaints are due in part to the state's large population of senior citizens, who often are targets of several types of scams, according to law enforcement.
“This happens all the time, not only because they are elderly, but because they have money,” said Corey Dobridnia, public information officer for the Walton County Sheriff's Office.
Mothers also make good targets because they are often preoccupied with their children and can sometimes neglect valuables. Dobridnia said men usually carry wallets in their pockets, while a woman's purse is carried and therefore easier to leave behind.
“It is not uncommon to have traveling bands of criminals in areas where they know that they have, for instance, mothers inside with children,” Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson said. “We have seen that with shopping centers, these are people that they know are more than likely going to be inside with their children.”
While fraud often targets the elderly and women, identity theft victims tend to be on the younger side, according to Adkinson.
“The youth are less concerned about their safety, and on the converse, some of the folks that are elderly are not aware of the potential impacts of that information,” he said.
Both fraud and identity theft can be problematic for local law enforcement because the crimes often take place across multiple jurisdictions.
“If I have a swiper where I can copy people’s credit card numbers, and I swipe dozens and dozens of people’s credit cards, I only need one of those cards to work to be a return on investments and you have multiple jurisdictions involved in a property crime," Adkinson said.
Property crime can often result in serious theft. An elderly Walton County woman suffering from dementia recently was swindled out of $20,000 over the phone.
Regardless of the amount, fraud and identity theft can leave a lasting impression on its victims.
"For them to get away with cashing that many checks and that much money out of our bank account and the bank taking so long to refund that money," Bundren said, "our life has been turned upside down.”