The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) transferred tens of thousands of prisoners from institutions to home confinement under the CARES Act, which removed health-vulnerable inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, the BOP also began implementing a part of the sweeping First Step Act that led to the release of thousands of prisoners, mostly from minimum security camps. It marked a significant change in the way the BOP has operated in the past.
Serving a sentence in the BOP usually meant that the person would spend most of their time, nearly eighty-five percent, of their sentence in custody. Over the past two years, particularly minimum security prisoners, have become accustomed to events that cause their prison sentences to be shortened or allowed to be served on home confinement. While this is welcome news to many families, many others are now receiving calls promising even more time off of sentences and they are offering services at top dollar to try to prisoners home even sooner. The problem is that these calls are coming from scammers whose promises are too good to be true.
The BOP sent out a Media Advisory indicating that it had been alerted of a phone scam impacting incarcerated individuals and their families where callers are identifying themselves as BOP employees to secure money for release to pre-release custody. The BOP’s Advisory stated that “it will not contact individuals to request personal information or money,” and that any such requests would be fraudulent in nature. Families are paying thousands of dollars for these scams, for many it is all the money they can pull together, to get their loved one out of prison. This is a vulnerable population who are desperate for freedom.
This scheme is not the only one out there targeting the incarcerated. Over the summer, a scheme targeted prisoners in halfway houses who were trying to get on home confinement. The scam involved telling prisoners that they could purchase their own ankle bracelet to be placed on home confinement because the BOP had a shortage of the bracelets. Once the money was sent for the ankle bracelet, the prisoner or their family never heard from the scammer again. One person I spoke to paid $10,000 for the imaginary bracelet and reported the incident to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
The BOP also stated that there are other scams affecting incarcerated individuals and their families. Specifically, callers are identifying themselves as Federal Probation Officers and members of the U.S. Parole Commission to gain personal information or money for early release and/or relocation approvals. Again, this is just not true.
So what can be done? The BOP stated that individuals who are contacted by persons purporting to be employees of the BOP, the United States Probation Office, and/or the United States Parole Commission related to the potential release of an incarcerated individual should report these calls to the Federal Trade Commission online, Request Rejected, or by phone at 1-877-382-4357 (9:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.).