Scams are running rampant these days ”“ from Internet and email scams to landline and cellphone scams.

The latest local scam involves phony calls from the court system.

The caller says they are calling from a court, and tells the person they owe a fine or there’s an outstanding warrant for their arrest. The caller then asks for personal information: a Social Security number or a credit card number.

Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the Maine Judicial Branch, said the courts’ collection practices do not include telephone or email contact, and that no one working for Maine courts will request credit card information, Social Security numbers or other personal information either over the telephone or by email.

This scam may be particularly convincing because, Lynch says, the number displayed on the recipient’s caller ID shows the call originates from the court. It’s called “caller ID spoofing,” and it can make a call appear to come from any phone number the caller chooses, Lynch said.

This is a sophisticated scam, and it’s clear that scams are just going to get more and more sophisticated as technology advances. That means people need to be more vigilant and aware of the types of scams that are out there, and be more discriminating when screening calls and emails.

In addition to the court scam, Central Maine Power Company reported last week that customers continue to receive calls from people claiming to represent the utility, who demand immediate payments.

CMP said customers should verify all information before making payments, and they can verify the identity of any CMP employee by asking for their employee number, then contacting CMP at 800-750-4000 to verify the employee’s identity and the nature of their call. CMP said its employees should have no problem complying with an identity verification request.

Another red flag in this scam is that customers are told to purchase a pre-paid debit card at a local convenience store, and then call a specific number with the card information. They are told if they don’t comply, their power will be disconnected.

CMP said it does not ask customers to purchase debit cards, such as Green Dot MoneyPaks, to make payments. The company said the best way for customers to make an urgent payment is at CMP’s website, www.cmpco.com. Customers can also check their balance at CMP’s website or by calling the 800 number.

It’s never a good idea to give out personal information or make payments over the phone when solicited. Most reputable companies say they will never solicit personal or payment information by email. If there is any doubt in a person’s mind when they get such a call, they should hang up and find their most recent statement to get the number for the company from which they believe the call originated. Call back and ask if someone from the company called about an issue on the account.

The Better Business Bureau also sent out a scam warning last week. The BBB said consumers in several New England states have reported receiving calls on their cellphones in which an unknown caller hangs up after one ring. When the cell owner returns the call, they are billed $19.95 for the international call fee. They may hear music or advertising while they are unknowingly connected to a caller-paid toll service or chat line located outside the country.

The other scam involves credit card charges. With this new scam, there are unexplained charges of $9.84. The BBB says people should contest the charges with their bank or credit card issuer by calling the number on the back of their card as soon as possible.

The BBB advises the following tips to avoid becoming a victim of such scams: Don’t answer unknown calls, just let it go to voicemail; add restrictions to accounts, like prohibiting third-party billing through the bank or credit card issuer; keep a close eye on monthly statements and monitor bills regularly; and report incorrect or unauthorized charges promptly, because many credit card companies do not hold card holders responsible for unauthorized or fraudulent charges as long as they are contested in a timely manner.

Today’s editorial was written by City Editor Robyn Burnham Rousseau on behalf of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, ext. 322, or via email at [email protected]