Inmate Release: Phone Scam Overview

Scammers calling from prisonFamilies of prison inmates are very vulnerable to scams. While they are waiting eagerly for their loved one to be released, con artists (many times other inmates) are taking advantage of their desperation by calling and promising to get their loved one released for a fee.

Perpetrators of this scam can swindle their victims out of obscene amounts of money. In 2010, the FBI reported that a former Florida inmate bilked another inmate's family out of over $100,000.

How Does the Inmate Release Scam Work?

The prison release scam has been around for a few years. However, it hasn't received as much publicity as other phone scams, like the IRS scam, because it targets such a specific group of victims. Families of prison inmates need to be aware of the scam and know how to avoid it.

Here is a break down of this scam:

  • The scammer gets names of prison inmates. The scammer may be currently incarcerated or recently released, they could also be a prison employee. They target families of other inmates they met in prison.
  • The scammer calls families of inmates pretending to be an employee at the prison. They may actually be an employee or inmate, so caller ID will show a phone number originating from the prison. They could also use caller ID spoofing to make it seem as if they are calling from the prison. 
  • The scammer promises to get the inmate released for a fee.
  • After the fee is paid, they'll either disappear or ask for more money. Victims often pay thousands of dollars before realizing they've been scammed.

Correctional departments across the country are trying to warn the public about these scams. They have pointed out that paying a fee cannot secure an inmate's release.

How to Protect Yourself

You can avoid falling victim to the inmate release scam by understanding how the correctional system works. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Understand How Prison Releases Work

Inmates can't pay to be released from prison early. They must remain in prison until they serve their sentence, are approved for parole, have their sentence overturned on appeal, or are granted a pardon by the governor (for convictions of state offenses) or the president (for convictions of federal offenses). There is no fee to be released if any of these criteria are met.

If a caller promises to have an inmate released for a fee, they are lying.

Don't Trust Promises from Prison Employees

Don't trust promises made by someone claiming to be a prison employee. Prison officials have absolutely zero control over the sentencing or release of inmates.

Never Wire Money

You should never wire money to anyone that you speak to over the phone. Scammers often use Western Union, MoneyGram or MoneyMart to defraud their victims. You'll probably never see your money again if you wire it to an anonymous party requesting payment.

What to Do if You're Targeted?

If you are the target of an inmate release scam, then you should contact the Department of Corrections in the state where your loved one is being held. Since the perpetrator is often an employee or inmate in the prison where the call originated from, the administration of the prison can take action. You can also contact the Attorney General's office in that state to spread the word about this scam.

Another way to spread the word about the inmate release phone scam is by leaving your feedback on numbers that are involved in this scam in CallerSmart's community phone book. If another person is called by the same number they can run a reverse phone lookup using our free app for iPhone and iPad, and see your helpful feedback. If you don't have an iPhone or iPad, you can still search phone numbers in our phone book and leave your feedback on our website.