The hottest fraud of 2020, according to the FTC, was imposter scams — when criminals impersonate a government official, a law enforcement officer, a business, or a trusted friend or family member to trick victims into sending money. A new form of the scam we’re seeing is con artists posing as court representatives, telling people they have missed a court date or failed to show up for jury duty and intimidating victims into paying bogus fines by threats of arrest.
Libby, a consumer living in Washington, DC, recently became one such victim and agreed to share her story with us. Libby was contacted by someone posing as a police sergeant who claimed to be reaching out because she had missed a court summons. The scammers impressed upon her that she could be arrested and held for 72 hours if she failed to cooperate. Horrified, and thinking of her young son, Libby urgently needed to take care of the matter to ensure she was able to continue to care for him.
Still, Libby made sure to do her due diligence by trying to verify what the scammers were telling her. In addition to providing personal information about Libby, like her address and profession, the scammers used legitimate names of local law enforcement and court officials. When the information they provided checked out, Libby thought it was plausible she had missed a mailing alerting her to appear in court during such a chaotic year. The scammers then transferred Libby to what they claimed was their billing department and instructed her to transfer money to a Treasury Department account. They warned Libby against taking pictures of the transactions, threatening her with retaliation if she “broke the law.” In the end, Libby lost $2,500 to the imposter scam, not to mention the emotional distress she endured from the encounter.
Stories like Libby’s are, unfortunately, not uncommon. The United State Courts have warned people for years of these long-running imposter scams. According to the Federal Trade Commission government imposter scams more than doubled between Q2 and Q4 of 2020 after steadily declining for a year. Localities all over the country are reporting an uptick in jury duty scams.
The best way for consumers to avoid falling victim to this type of imposter scam is to understand the following red flags:
- Scammers may use aggressive tactics like urging you to act quickly and threatening you with jail time. Slow the conversation down. Give yourself time to verify the information they provide and contact your local law enforcement.
- Our personal information, as well as contact details for local law enforcement and court officers, is readily available online. Scammers use these details to add legitimacy to their claims. Just because the person on the phone has some accurate information about you doesn’t mean what they are telling you is legit.
- Fraudsters may demand money through wire transfer or gift cards. Money sent via these hard-to-track methods cannot be easily recovered. If someone calls you asking for payment via one of these methods, it is almost certainly a scam.
- Court officials and local law enforcement will never tell you that you cannot have a receipt for proof of payment. If someone is insisting that’s the case, it is probably a scam.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of a stimulus check scam or any other type of fraud, we urge you to file a complaint at Fraud.org via our online complaint form.