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That letter you got from the federal government might not be real

The Federal Bureau of Investigation building on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, in St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Agents with the FBI in St. Louis are warning people of a recent scam in which criminal gangs pretend to be federal law enorcement.

The FBI and federal prosecutors in St. Louis want residents to be aware of the latest scam that involves people pretending to be federal law enforcement agents.

The content of the fake letters varies, said Jill Mansfield, the supervisory special agent of the cyber squad at the FBI’s St. Louis office. Some spoof actual federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, while others list an agency that sounds real but does not exist.

The perpetrators are often criminal gangs, Mansfield said, and they are getting more sophisticated.

“They’re doing their homework in advance,” she said. “They’re trying to find information that will kind of hit home when the person reads it because it's more personal — it has their name, potentially their address to it. They’re hoping that someone will react quickly.”

The letters are meant to scare people, Mansfield said. She urged those who might get one to pause and verify before turning over money or personal information.

Reach out to the entity or organization that is supposedly reaching out to you and ask, Is this a legitimate request? she said. “Is this a legitimate letter?”

For example, in one version of the scam, potential victims got a letter from the U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, which is a real federal court. But the letter references the Victim’s Cooperation Program, which does not exist. It also incorrectly describes the federal grand jury process.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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