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Phone scammers target region, threaten arrest by Marshals Service

Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota is warning consumers about a new phone scam that asks victims to make a payment in iTunes gift cards. Special to The Forum

MOORHEAD, Minn. — Scammers have been phoning residents from Moorhead to the Fergus Falls, Minn., area, claiming they are from the U.S. Marshals Service and threatening to arrest them on a warrant unless they pay their fine with a pre-paid credit card or gift card.

"They say that the victim received a jury summons in the mail ... and that they failed to show up for it," Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Chris Clifford said. The scammer then tells the target of the scam that to clear up a warrant issued against them, they should buy a prepaid credit card or gift card and send it to the caller.

The same scam targeted people in the Twin Cities last year, Clifford said Monday, Aug. 7.

"It doesn't seem to be a pattern to who they're targeting. It's almost like they take a phone book and pick a number out of it," he said.

Clifford said the Marshals Service may call someone and tell them they have a fine to pay, but they won't ask to collect the money by way of a telephone call. Also, if you're going to be arrested, you won't get a heads-up — other than perhaps a knock on your door.

"If we do have a warrant for you, we're not going to tell you," Clifford said.

Clifford said the most recent scam call the Marshals Service had heard about asked the intended victim for about $2,000. Another person was actually going to meet with the scammer, then thought the situation sounded strange and contacted authorities, Clifford said.

"So far, I think we've been able to stop it before any money was transferred," Clifford said.

He urged anyone receiving a call from someone claiming to be with the Marshals Service to collect as much information during the call as possible, including the name the person gives, a callback number, and a location or office that the scammer says they're operating from. Then, report that information to the Marshals Service office in Minneapolis by calling (612) 664-5900.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

(701) 241-5583
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