The FBI on Wednesday warned of a new scam in which criminals posing as federal agents call people and threaten them with arrest unless they pay up.

The FBI’s Boston Division said it is seeing an increase in reports about scammers targeting residents of Maine and other New England states through unsolicited, often spoofed, telephone calls, according to a news release issued by spokeswoman Kristen M. Setera.

A scammer claims to a be representative of a government agency, including the FBI, while trying to intimidate the victim into making immediate payment to avoid arrests.

Typically, the person advises recipients of the call that charges have been, or soon will be, filed against them, and threatens to confiscate their property, freeze their bank accounts, or have them arrested unless payment is made immediately. If a recipient questions the caller, the caller becomes more aggressive.

Potential victims of the scam are advised that it will cost thousands of dollars in fees or court costs to resolve the matter, and the caller typically instructs people to wire “settlement” money or provide payment via prepaid cards or gift cards to avoid arrest.

“Nobody wants to be the subject of a law enforcement investigation, and scammers are using that to their advantage to try and intimidate people into just handing over their hard-earned money. We’re asking you not to fall for it,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Boston Division. “It’s important to resist the urge to act immediately and verify who is actually contacting you.”

The FBI said government agencies do not threaten individuals with arrest or demand money for any reason, especially during a phone call or through an email exchange. People should hang up immediately and report the call to law enforcement.

Setera said the FBI’s Boston Division, which covers all of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, investigated 405 scammer cases in 2020 involving financial losses totaling $3.7 million. A total of 44 Maine victims lost more than $32,000 while 279 victims in Massachusetts lost $3.2 million to scams last year.

To avoid becoming a victim of the scam, be wary of answering phone calls from numbers you do not recognize. Do not send money to anybody you do not personally know and trust. Never give out your personal information, including your Social security number, over the phone or to individuals you do not know, the FBI said.

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