Be wary of any phone calls from the Sheriff’s Department. That’s the message from – well, from the Sheriff’s Department.

On Wednesday afternoon, May 8, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department sent out a warning to county residents about new impostor scams in which a caller poses as a sheriff’s deputy or a Guilford County court official and tries to separate citizens from their money.

According to Guilford County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Max Benbassat, so far this week the department has received multiple complaints about phone calls during which the caller falsely identified himself or herself as either a sheriff’s deputy or a court official.

One added trick in the new criminal playbook is that, thanks to modern technology, the call may actually show up in caller ID as having originated from the Sheriff’s Department or from the courthouse.

Here’s how the scam works according to the warning: “The scam entails the perpetrator using either a fictitious or actual law enforcement employee’s name in an effort to extort victims into making payments [for] missed jury duty, failures to appear, warrants, etc.  In these scams, callers posing as GCSO [Guilford County Sheriff’s Office] deputies or court officials tell potential victims they missed a court date and threaten them with immediate arrest or account seizure unless they pay a fine using retail gift cards or money wires – forms of payment that government/law enforcement agencies do not accept.”

The department is warning that this is a very common scam – with various versions now being seen across the country with some frequency.

According to Sheriff’s Department officials, this new scam closely mimics a recent popular one in which the caller impersonates an IRS officer asking for payment.

Benbassat said this week that all calls supposedly from deputies demanding money are scams.

“No one from GCSO calls to demand payment,” he said. “If in doubt, call GCSO or local police department non-emergency to report the suspicious call.”

He added that citizens should be prepared to provide as many details as possible to assist in the investigation.

“Calls threatening you with arrest, lawsuits or account seizure are flat-out scams,” he said.

Federal authorities also recently warned the public about this type of scam and put out a similar statement.

“Federal government agencies and federal employees don’t ask people to send money for prizes or unpaid loans,” a statement from the Federal Trade Commission read.  “Nor are they permitted to ask you to wire money or add money to a prepaid debit card to pay for anything.”

They warn that some dead give aways indicating a scam are that the callers “tell you you’ll have to pay taxes or service charges before you can collect your winnings,” or they “ask you to wire money right away, often to a foreign country.”