The US Marshals Service and FBI have updated an earlier warning against scammers impersonating law enforcement officers. The agencies say those behind the scams accuse a potential victim of a crime and demand payment via a Bitcoin ATM or another somewhat obscure payment method.
It’s unclear how effective such scams are. The requested payment method should be enough of a red flag yet clearly the US Marshals feel it prudent to reissue its warning.
The US Government Doesn’t Take Payment in Bitcoin…
The US Marshals, a branch of the United States Department of Justice, has reissued a warning it first made in late 2018. It details a series of scams in which individuals call potential victims impersonating government law enforcement officers.
The scammer tells the potential victim that they have an arrest warrant out for them. Some relatively insignificant charge, such as skipping jury duty is given, and a fine is demanded. The receiver of the call is informed that failure to pay the fine will result in a jail sentence.
UPDATED FRAUD ADVISORY – Spoofers using government phone numbers, government employees’ names,
demanding payment via bitcoin ATMs: https://t.co/ZMBG3hNJmj
— U.S. Marshals (@USMarshalsHQ) December 6, 2019
To pay the fine, victims are given some instantly suspicious payment options. They can top up prepay debit cards or buy gift cards and read the unique numbers to the caller. Alternatively, they can buy Bitcoin using a Bitcoin ATM and send it to an wallet address provided over the phone.
Despite the obvious red flag that would make anyone remotely clued up about Bitcoin immediately hang up the phone, the scammers appear to be persisting. This has prompted the US Marshals to update a warning today that it first issued late last year.
The latest iteration claims that those behind the scam are using government agency telephone numbers and real employees’ names to bring a greater sense of legitimacy to the cold calls. The US Marshals Service is appealing to those that think they have been affected by such scams to report to their local FBI office. The agency reminds the public that the US Marshals will never ask for payments via Bitcoin, gift cards, or seek financial information over the telephone.
To those of us well aware of Bitcoin’s legal position and history, such scams seem outright ridiculous. However, they must either be prevalent enough or effective enough for US Federal agencies to feel the need to warn the public against them. Granted, they do rely on little more than a telephone and the skills to spoof a caller ID. Such a low overhead, even in the face of a presumably low chance of success, is always attractive to scammers looking to dupe the vulnerable.
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