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.

Over the past decade or so, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties have become less renowned for old-school "Miami Vice"-style drug shootouts than for scammers stealing hundreds of millions from the government, banks and individuals by using laptops, stolen identities and fake medical procedures.

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.

To cite just one example, the Treasury Department reports the number of false federal income tax returns in South Florida is 46 times the national average.