Scammers putting COVID-19 twist on imposter scheme, state leader warns

Florida Attorney General says scammers are repurposing an old trick


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Scammers targeting parents and grandparents with phony calls about family member arrests are using COVID-19 concerns to strike more fear, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said.

Moody warned in a Consumer Alert issued Tuesday that scammers are putting a new twist on the common scam.

For years, she said, scammers have targeted parents and grandparents with phony calls claiming a family member is under arrest. The scammer often spoofs the phone number of a local law enforcement agency, then requests a bail payment to release the family member.

But with ongoing concerns about COVID-19 spreading in jails and prisons, scammers have found a new angle to play up the fear for a family member’s safety: the scammer claims that due to the health crisis, bail payment must be paid immediately over the phone to reduce person-to-person contact, often implying the relative “under arrest” may contract COVID-19 while in custody.

“Scammers are always looking for a new way to repurpose an old trick, and imposter scams are the perfect vehicle to leverage the fear of COVID-19," Moody said in a news release. “The added concern of the health risks raised by the scammers in their fake calls only makes an already stressful situation—the supposed arrest of a loved one—even more alarming. It’s despicable, but sadly effective.”

Moody warns anyone who gets such a call to hang up immediately and call the relative directly who is supposedly under arrest, and then call authorities to report the scam.

Imposter scams take many different forms and can originate from an email, phone call or text message. Imposter phone calls are effective because spoofing technology allows scammers to change the information displayed on caller IDs to give the appearance that their calls are coming from a government entity. To avoid falling victim to an imposter scam:

  • Do not automatically trust the number listed on the caller ID, especially with respect to unsolicited calls.
  • Be wary of any individual who calls or emails asking or demanding a money wire transfer, prepaid debit card or gift card as payment.
  • Hang up and contact the appropriate government agency or the apparent requesting entity directly.
  • Never provide personal or financial information over the phone or via email in response to an unsolicited communication.
  • Know that law enforcement agencies will never call threatening to arrest you or someone you know unless you provide immediate payment.

Moody also has a Scams at a Glance webpage with more detailed information and resources for Floridians about identifying and avoiding common imposter scams. To view the Imposter Scams brochure in Spanish, click here. Report any suspicious activity to the Florida Attorney General’s Office by calling 1-866-9NO-SCAM or by visiting MyFloridaLegal.com.

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