A warning from the Florida Supreme Court: beware of phone calls and emails that claim you owe court fees and if you don’t pay them, you will end up before a judge.
State Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters says they are nothing more than scams aimed at stealing your money. He says Florida courts just don’t operate that way.
“Most importantly, state courts in Florida do not make initial contact by email or by phone to tell people to appear before a judge or to pay money,” Waters said in a news release sent out Friday morning. “You normally would be told in person or by regular-delivery mail.”
While anyone could be targeted, the scams appear to prey on people with limited English-language skills, the elderly, healthcare workers, or the relatives of people who recently died.
Waters says there are at least four different types of scams have been reported. The release details how each works:
- One scam send emails saying that the recipient – often a health-care worker – is a defendant in a “Court of Appeals” case about a “Health Care Service Violation.” In reality, no Florida state court would ever make its initial contact with any “defendant” by email.
- A separate telephone scam targets Spanish speakers in Southeast Florida, especially Dade and Broward Counties. It often displays a fake Caller ID phone number that spoofs the actual phone number of the Florida Supreme Court clerk’s office. Usually the caller tells the intended victims they must pay money or make a wire transfer to avoid being charged with offenses like kidnapping, child pornography or human trafficking.
- A third scam targets the family or heirs of people who recently died, claiming that someone else owes money to the deceased person’s estate. Usually the scam occurs by asking the family or heirs to pay an upfront “tax” or some other fee in order to receive payment. At least one email scam of this type included the bogus signature of a Florida judge.
- A fourth scam widespread throughout the United States can come by phone or email and relates to jury duty. Usually it falsely claims that the person must pay a fine for missing jury duty or must disclose sensitive personal information like a Social Security number that can be used in identity theft.
Waters says any links or attachments contained in a suspicious email should not be clicked or opened. He says it could contain a virus or a stealth program used to steal personal information from computer files.
If you do receive a suspicious phone call or email purporting to be from the court system, Waters advises you to contact local law enforcement or the Florida Attorney General. You can also contact the Florida Supreme Court at firstname.lastname@example.org.