CRIME

By nearly any measure, sunny South Florida is tops in fraud from ID theft to mortgage scams

  • FILE - In this May 2, 2012, file photo, Federal agents with the Office of Inspector General load computers seized from Willsand Home Health Agency, Inc. into a van in Miami. Over the past decade, South Florida has become less renowned for "old school" drug shootouts than for scammers stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the government, banks and individuals. South Florida has become the nation's organized fraud capital. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

    FILE - In this May 2, 2012, file photo, Federal agents with the Office of Inspector General load computers seized from Willsand Home Health Agency, Inc. into a van in Miami. Over the past decade, South Florida has become less renowned for "old school" drug shootouts than for scammers stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the government, banks and individuals. South Florida has become the nation's organized fraud capital. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE - In this May 2, 2012 file photo, Wifredo Ferrer, U.S Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, gestures as he announces Medicare fraud charges against 59 South Florida residents in Miami. Over the past decade, South Florida has become less renowned for "old school" drug shootouts than for scammers stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the government, banks and individuals. South Florida has become the nation's organized fraud capital. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

    FILE - In this May 2, 2012 file photo, Wifredo Ferrer, U.S Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, gestures as he announces Medicare fraud charges against 59 South Florida residents in Miami. Over the past decade, South Florida has become less renowned for "old school" drug shootouts than for scammers stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the government, banks and individuals. South Florida has become the nation's organized fraud capital. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)  (The Associated Press)

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.