TAMPA — If you're in trouble for skipping jury duty, make sure you actually skipped it.
The U.S. Marshals Service issued a nationwide warning Tuesday about telephone scams in which con artists pose as federal officials to swindle victims into paying fines they don't owe.
In unsolicited phone calls, the scammers identify themselves as U.S. Marshals, court or law enforcement officers. They demand payment of a fine for the victim's alleged failure to report for jury duty — a fabricated event — or another fictitious offense.
To appear legitimate, the perpetrators will often "spoof" their phone numbers, so that Caller ID will show them to be calling from a courthouse or federal agency, according to a U.S. Marshals news release. The callers are also known to provide badge numbers, courthouse addresses, and names of real law enforcement officials or federal judges.
Some victims have been told they can avoid arrest by purchasing a prepaid debit or gift card, then reading the card number over the phone, according to the release. In a variation of the same scam, people are told they have won the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes and must pay a fee to claim their prize.
Marshals would never seek payment of fines via telephone, the news released stated. Nor would the agency ever demand card numbers or other financial information in that manner.
In the Tampa Bay area, anyone who was a target of the scams can call the U.S. Marshals Tampa District Office at (813) 483-4200.