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Called by someone demanding money and claiming to be a US marshal?

There is a scam going around that targets the public, criminal defendants and especially sex offenders. We've received some calls about it at our office, so we thought we would cover it here.

According to the U.S. Marshals Service in Milwaukee, con artists are calling people from numbers that have been spoofed to look like the marshals' phone number or other local numbers. The scammers may also claim to be from other law enforcement agencies.

The scammer's ultimate goal is money, and they may claim that you have been fined in lieu of arrest for something like:

  • Missing jury duty
  • Failing to appear at court
  • Violating the terms of your sex offender registration

Once they have your attention, the scammers say that you can pay the fine and avoid being unnecessarily arrested by purchasing a prepaid debit card or gift card and then giving it over to the so-called marshal. They may even ask you to read the card numbers over the phone.

They hope to frighten you enough that you won't ask too many questions, but they are using a number of tactics to seem credible. For example, they may offer a badge number, or reference actual federal judges, law enforcement officials and courthouses. Some have even provided the number of a court order that supposedly says you owe the money.

No law enforcement agency accepts gift cards for payment

Here are a few facts to keep in mind if you receive this call:

  • The U.S. Marshals Service makes clear that it would never ask for money over the phone, and neither will any legitimate law enforcement agency. Indeed, you should never give money or anything of value to someone over the phone unless you initiated the call.
  • Law enforcement agencies also do not accept wire transfers, bank routing numbers, or gift cards at all, much less over the phone.
  • In general, fines and fees are not paid to law enforcement but to the court. If the scammer cites a court order, you can call the clerk of court and ask if there is a court order under your name or under the number the scammer gave you.

What to do if you are called by these scammers

  • The first thing to do is not to panic. That's what the scammers are hoping for.
  • If you have any concerns that the call could be real, write down the information the scammer gives you in detail. Ask for a contact number, but don't call that number.
  • If you have an attorney, call just to check that everything is on track with your case.
  • Contact the FBI with the information you collected from the scammer.

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