BBB Eastern MA, ME, RI & VT -- 

Many scams start with an intimidating phone call. A “debt collector” needs you to pay immediately. Or a “police officer” claims to have a warrant for your arrest. The latest variation involves a phony "process server" and a non-existent court case against you. BBB Scam Tracker continues to receive reports of this phishing scam. Here’s how to spot it. 

How the scam works

You receive a call, or several calls, from an unknown or blocked number from a person claiming to be a process server. They might say there is a lien on your home or someone is taking you to court over unpaid medical bills or another matter. The caller may also claim you or a family member are a "person of interest in an important matter that requires immediate attention," and federal law prohibits the caller from sharing any additional information. Similarly, in other cases, the scammer may be secretive, saying they can’t reveal details until your papers are served. 

Next, they’ll ask you to “confirm” sensitive personal information about yourself, such as your date of birth, address, or Social Security number. When you’re hesitant to give out this information, they stress the urgency of the matter – after all, this is a court matter! If you ask too many questions about who is making a complaint or what company the process server works for, the scammer will get angry and sometimes threaten more action against you. The caller may also try to scare you further by asking if you will be home or at work within the next hour since they will be arriving soon to serve you papers, get your signature on legal documents, and demand to see your forms of identification.

Sometimes, the “process server” may be phishing for information about your family members. According to a report on BBB Scam Tracker, one consumer shared, "Previously left me a voicemail about a lawsuit against my grandmother using her full government name a few weeks ago. Today they called again and asked if I knew the person, to which I said no, and then asked if I was (my full government name), to which I also said no. The person continued to be very pushy until they finally decided to end the call."

The people behind this scam don’t have any legal papers to deliver, they want to get their hands on your personal information to commit identity theft.

BBB Scam Tracker sees many reports about process server phishing scams. One consumer recently shared their experience, "I received a call from a private number, claiming to be a "process server" stating they had papers regarding a lein on my home...I checked with my police department, and town, i have no leins on my home." Another person shared, "A fake process server called my mom and she called them back. They used my maiden name which I have not had in over 20 years about a county matter from a county not local to me saying they had papers to serve [and] they wanted to validate my information. My mom hung up but it scared her."

How to avoid phishing scams

  • Be wary of scare tactics and unsolicited phone calls. Scammers love to threaten people with legal action or hefty fines, scaring them into giving up their personal information and money. They hope fear will make you act without thinking. Always remember that representatives of a reputable business or legal office will be polite and civil, even in a serious situation. They won’t pressure you to act immediately “or else.”
  • Search your local court website. If you think there’s a chance someone has filed a lawsuit against you, check your local court's website. Search your name to see if any lawsuit has been filed. If nothing comes up, you’re in the clear.
  • The scammer may have some personal information. Don’t give them more. Scammers may have some of your personal information already from a previous phishing scam, a data breach, or some other source. If you're speaking with the scammer, you may even notice that the information is out of date. For example, they may use your maiden name or a previous address or workplace. Even if the information is out of date, they may use these stolen details to get even more information from you. For example, they might read your Social Security number and then ask you to “confirm” your date of birth. If they read off out-of-date information, they may trick you into providing current information. Even if someone already has a few details, don’t give them any further information unless you are sure you’re dealing with someone you trust. Be careful when responding to questions that require a simple "yes" or "no" response, since the "Can you hear me?" scam is still around, too.
  • Don't give out personal information about family members, either. BBB Scam Tracker reports also share that these scammers are calling people to inquire about family members. If someone is asking you to validate information about another individual, hang up the phone. Afterwards, it's a good idea to notify the family member about the call you received. That way, they can be on the lookout for other scams and take action to protect their personal and financial information if it's at risk or has been stolen.

For more information

Reading up on phishing and impostor scams can help you spot a con before it’s too late. Watch out for jury duty scams, too, which also use imposter tactics and threatening phone calls to scam people into paying up.

You may also visit BBB's Spot a Scam page for tips on recognizing scam tactics.

If a scammer contacts you, report your experience to Your report can help us boost consumer awareness and make scammers’ tactics less effective.

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