PORTLAND, Maine — Criminal scammers using caller ID technology to impersonate court and police officials are calling people and saying they have missed a court date, a fine payment or jury duty, and an arrest warrant will be issued unless they pay a fine, Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the court system, said in a Friday press release.
“The recipient is told that they can pay the fine over the phone to avoid arrest. They are then asked to provide personal information,” Lynch said. “Earlier this week, a York County resident was defrauded of $1,000. The telephone number that is appearing on the recipient’s caller ID may actually appear as a Maine courthouse or sheriff department telephone number. The ability to show a fraudulent caller ID telephone number is called ‘caller ID spoofing,’ and unfortunately happens with increasing frequency.”
The same type of scam also is occurring in the federal court system, with scammers targeting citizens mostly by phone or email saying “they may be prosecuted for failure to comply with jury service,” U.S. District Court clerk Christa K. Berry said in a separate statement issued Friday.
“For the last several months, the United States district courts have become aware that citizens are also being asked to provide confidential information, such as social security numbers, dates of birth, etc.,” Berry said. “These false requests are used to coerce citizens into providing confidential data, which could lead to identity theft or fraud. In some cases, citizens are informed that there is a warrant for their arrest, and they are asked to pay a fine. These scams may use the actual names of judicial officers, courts and law enforcement personnel to lend authenticity to their illegal activity.”
The scammers are breaking federal laws because, “it is a crime for anyone to falsely represent himself or herself as a federal official,” the federal court clerk said.
While federal court personnel do contact prospective jurors on the phone and by mail, they would never request social security numbers, credit card numbers, dates of birth or other personal information, Berry said. Anyone who does is a possible scammer and should be reported.
The state court system’s collection practices do not include telephone or email contact, Lynch said.
“No one working for Maine courts or the sheriff’s department will request credit card, social security numbers or other personal information either over the telephone or by email,” Lynch said. “Nor will they appear at your home looking for money.”
Those who owe fine money to a court for speeding or other traffic violation, may receive a U.S. Postal Service letter, an arrest warrant may be issued, or their state tax refund will be reduced by the amount of the debt owed to the state, she said.
“People should not be giving personal information over the telephone or by email, and if they have a question about the authenticity of the request, they should call the local courthouse and speak to the court clerk,” Lynch said.
People who suspect a possible scam should notify their local law enforcement agency, she said.
Lynch noted that this is not the first time criminals have scammed Maine residents using the state court system.
“Earlier this year, the Maine Judicial Branch sent out a press advisory on an email scam involving a virus or malware,” she said. “Last winter, a phone scam impersonating court employees occurred.”
Those who have traffic tickets can make payments at: http://www.informe.org/cgi-bin/paytixx/paytixx.pl. Those who have court fines can make payments at: https://www5.informe.org/cgi-bin/online/courts/fines/login. Payments also can be made at the courthouse where the fine was ordered.