Recent weeks have seen a flood of phone calls from scammers posing as law enforcement, government institutions and insurance companies in the hopes of tricking people into giving up their financial information.

Some of the calls provide little or no information on who is calling, or claim to be from big-name companies like Microsoft. Others are more locally focused, sometimes using the names of real law enforcement officers.

The goal is always the same though. The caller insists there is some bill that needs to be paid immediately to avoid jail time or some other consequence.

Last week the Idaho Falls Police Department released tips to warn and inform residents about how to avoid such scams.

The calls typically come with no prior warning and act as if you missed some responsibility. The calls often start as a robocall and ask you to hold for some representative.

The call will insist the recipient has missed or neglected some responsibility such as jury duty or late payments. The idea is to create a sense of urgency by suggesting the person may have to face jail time or may lose their home if they do not pay the caller as soon as possible, giving the victim little time to consider the situation.

The biggest warning sign is how the caller requests payment be made. Rather than ask the recipient to go to the courthouse and make payment, they instead ask for payment through gift cards, which are harder to trace than debit or credit card information.

Real government institutions do not accept payment via gift cards. When there is concern that a call may be a scam, the best follow-up is to look up the government office’s number directly and call them to confirm if a payment needs to be made.

Reporter Johnathan Hogan can be reached at 208-542-6746.