Scammers have long impersonated government officials, but their new tactics are more intimidating than ever before, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Here’s how this new twist works and how to avoid falling victim to it.

How the scam works

You receive a letter in the mail that looks official. It claims to come from a court or law enforcement agency. Scammers combine personal information collected from data breaches with official-looking seals and watermarks to make the correspondence seem legitimate.

The letter informs you that you have violated federal or state statutes and offers you two choices: cooperate as a witness or face indictment for serious crimes. Unfortunately, choosing to cooperate as a witness requires you to pay thousands of dollars in “legal fees.” But scammers don’t stop there.

Whether or not you respond to the letter, they follow up with a call. Con artists use scare tactics, threatening you with jail time or other serious consequences if you don’t pay up. The more you engage with these scammers, the more aggressive they may become.

One person reported this kind of experience on the BBB Scam Tracker.

“I received a voicemail message to return a call to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office,” the person said. “When I called, a man said I was summoned to court and was notified by mail of this summons. I kept questioning him about this mailing. The man knew my address and middle name.”

How to avoid the scam

Here’s how to avoid such a scam:

• Verify correspondence with government agencies. If you receive a piece of mail or a call that seems suspicious, take a step back and make sure it’s legitimate before you take any action. Call the government office directly, using the official phone number, to verify the communications are real.

• Don’t engage with scammers. As soon as you know you are dealing with a scammer, cease communication. Stop answering calls, letters or emails, and block any numbers that have called you about the scam.

• Report government impostor scams to the FBI. Help the FBI catch scammers by reporting your experience online

For more tips on how to avoid scams, visit