A Texas police detective is issuing a warning that scammers are attempting to use the legal profession as a tool to bilk money from people who may be unfamiliar with the justice system.

George Schilter, a detective in the criminal investigations division of the Webster Police Department and a licensed Texas lawyer, wrote to the State Bar of Texas with concerns over recent scamming practices.

Schilter wants the help of anyone who may work with immigrants, undocumented individuals, the elderly, or people who are struggling to learn English in order to help educate them about scammers who prey on these groups because of their lack of knowledge about the U.S. justice system.

Schilter recounted details of a Houston-area fraud investigation reported in January. A Spanish-speaking woman reported that in mid-2018 she received a phone call from someone claiming she had won an electronic tablet. She gave the person her information and a few weeks later received the tablet. She began using the device, and months later received a call from a Spanish-speaking woman advising her that she needed to be in court in Washington D.C. because, the woman alleged, there were software products on the tablet that the victim did not pay for.

The woman told the victim that she needed a lawyer to help her clear up the matter and gave her a reference of a lawyer to use. The woman contacted the person claiming to be the lawyer who continued the scam story with claims of fees, fines, and community service that the woman would need to pay and complete. In all, the scammers obtained more than $20,000 from the victim. Detectives learned some of the money came from loans or was borrowed from relatives and friends.

Schilter asks that anyone who has access to or works with individuals or groups who may be vulnerable to similar scams to help spread the word. He offers the following tips to pass along to vulnerable communities:

  • If a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
  • Many scams involve the use of gift cards purchased at stores and loaded with money. Beware of any request to pay for goods or services in this manner.
  • Always report suspected criminal activity to law enforcement. It’s easier to vet a possible scam than it is to seek justice after the fact. Recovering money in scams (most of which originate outside the country) is nearly impossible.
  • Scammers are depending on their victims to be afraid of law enforcement or ashamed as a way to continue their criminal activity.