Scammers target upscale neighborhoods posing as federal marshals
The U. S. Marshals Service is looking for victims of a sophisticated scam that's tricking people out of thousands of dollars in the name of the law. Unlike the IRS scammers who call and aggressively demand instant payment of a so-called delinquent tax bill, these scammers are very polite and claim to be U.S Marshals. They use names of actual government officials, addresses of actual court houses, and a phone system that sounds like the real thing.
"They had me from the very beginning convinced that it was the Federal Marshals office calling my house." , said a local victim who didn't want to be identified. The Seattle area man got taken for $5,000.
The scammers identify themselves as federal officials. They claim a judge has issued an arrest warrant- contempt of court for failing to appear for grand jury duty at the federal court house.
"The desire to comply with law enforcement just sorta overrides your instinct.", the victim said.
The scammers control the conversation very cleverly by insisting that if you hang up the phone with them you're in violation of a strict protocol established by the judge. But you can avoid arrest if you post bond, by purchasing pre-paid debit cards and verify key card numbers.
Rather than wait for you to call back with the card numbers, these scammers keep you on the phone and director you to a specific store, giving instructions the entire time, and don't hang up until you give the the information they need to download the money linked to the cards.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Raymond Fleck says this highly sophisticated scam targets high income neighborhoods across the country. Similar scams have been reported in parts of Georgia and Virginia.
"Once the scammers get the money, they tell the victims mail that card to the U. S. district court." explained Fleck.
Courts are collecting drained cards as evidence- along with the recorded greetings consumers get when they dial the provided call back number.. According to Fleck, the scammers use a network of official sounding outgoing messages and phone lines that reinforce the impression that consumers are really dealing with a federal district court.
"Number one, the United States Marshals service or the United States District Court will not call you and demand money." , stressed Fleck.
The U.S. Marshals Service is working with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to track down the scammers- believed to be somewhere in the United States. So far the investigation has identified a dozen victims in the Puget Sound region. Combined losses total nearly $31,000.
If you've been taken investigators urge you to save the prepaid cards you purchased and contact the U.S.Marshals service in your county. A special scam hotline has been designated so victims can report the fraud. If you keep the drained cards and report the crime, there may be a way to get your money back.
Meantime, if you get a call from anyone claiming to be a U.S. Marshal or anyone else who wants money on the spot for any reason - don't engage them. Just hang up the phone.