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Court-related phone scams continue

Federal officials say scammers may take advantage of the holiday season to steal your money.

The U.S. marshals are alerting the public of several nationwide imposter scams involving individuals claiming to be U.S. marshals, court officers or other law enforcement officials.

The marshals are urging people to report the calls not only to their local U.S. Marshals Service office, but also to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has the ability to detect patterns of fraud from the information collected and share that data with law enforcement, a news release said. The marshals hope the information collected by the FTC will lead to arrests.

During these calls, scammers attempt to collect a fine in lieu of arrest for failing to report for jury duty or other offenses. They then tell victims they can avoid arrest by purchasing a prepaid debit card such as a Green Dot card or gift card and read the card number over the phone to satisfy the fine.

“The U.S. marshals would never ask for a credit/debit or gift card number or banking routing numbers or ask for funds to be wired for any purpose,” said U.S. Marshal Bobby Mathieson. “If the caller is urging you to provide this type of information or any other personal or financial information, hang up and report the call to the marshals and the FTC. You can even report to both agencies anonymously.”

Scammers use many tactics to sound credible. They sometimes provide information like badge numbers, names of actual law enforcement officials and federal judges, and courthouse addresses. They may also spoof their phone numbers to appear on caller ID as if they are calling from the court or a government agency.

“While these callers may sound legitimate, we urge people to question their validity,” Mathieson said. “The easiest way to do this is to call the clerk’s office of the U.S. district court in your area and verify the court order. If an order does not exist, someone just tried to swindle you out of your hard-earned cash.”

“These are not victimless crimes,” Mathieson said. “People have lost thousands of dollars to these scammers. This can be devastating, especially during the holidays.”