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Michigan woman charged in "arrest warrant" scam after co-conspirator unknowingly texts federal agent

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(CBS DETROIT) - A Milford woman was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud after authorities say she attempted to obtain $60,000 from a Grand Rapids resident to avoid arrest on a fake "FBI Warrant of Arrest" for a false allegation of "IRS tax fraud."

Kari Melissa Morales, 51, was charged by a federal grand jury Tuesday. She faces up to 20 years in prison.   

"Financial fraud is rampant," said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. "Fraudsters come at us through our devices, in the mail, and at our doors. And they target some of our most vulnerable, especially senior citizens.

"Safety starts with awareness. Federal agencies like the IRS and FBI will never send anyone texts, emails, or other messages requesting or demanding money to dismiss an arrest warrant or criminal charges." 

According to an indictment, Morales drove to Grand Rapids in April 2024, attempting to exchange a fake "IRS receipt" and fake "FBI Warrant of Arrest" for $60,000 cash that she was to turn over to a co-conspirator. 

Authorities say Morales received fake documents from a co-conspirator she met online. The co-conspirator, whom Morales had never met in person, allegedly told Morales to print the documents and exchange them for cash that she was to receive from the person named in the documents. Morales was told she would keep $2,500 of the $60,000 she received from the victim. 

The indictment says that during the attempted exchange, Morales had a loaded firearm in a holster and a police badge that was issued to someone else in Michigan. 

An investigation started after authorities said the co-conspirator posed as someone from the "IRS fraud department" and texted a cell phone number that previously belonged to the victim. The co-conspirator was unaware that the victim's cell phone number was reassigned to a federal agent in Kent County. 

"The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is dedicated to safeguarding all Americans from individuals who exploit innocent people through fraudulent and deceptive schemes," said Inspector in Charge Rodney M. Hopkins of the Detroit Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. "Today's indictment should send a clear message to anyone contemplating engaging in similar scams that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, along with our law enforcement partners, is committed to holding these offenders accountable and ensuring they are brought to justice." 

How to protect yourself from financial fraud

The FBI provided the following tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of financial fraud: 

  • Recognize scam attempts and end all communication with the perpetrator.
  • Search online for the contact information (name, email, phone number, addresses) and the proposed offer. Other people have likely posted information online about individuals and businesses trying to run scams.
  • Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers create a sense of urgency to produce fear and lure victims into immediate action. Call the police immediately if you feel there is a danger to yourself or a loved one.
  • Be cautious of unsolicited phone calls, text messages, mailings, and door-to-door services offers.
  • Never give or send any personally identifiable information, money, jewelry, gift cards, checks, or wire information to unverified people or businesses.
  • Make sure all computer anti-virus and security software and malware protections are up to date. Use reputable anti-virus software and firewalls.
  • Disconnect from the internet and shut down your device if you see a pop-up message or locked screen. Pop-ups are regularly used by perpetrators to spread malicious software. Enable pop-up blockers to avoid accidentally clicking on a pop-up.
  • Be careful what you download. Never open an email attachment from someone you don't know, and be wary of email attachments forwarded to you.
  • Take precautions to protect your identity if a criminal gains access to your device or account. Immediately contact your financial institutions to place protections on your accounts, and monitor your accounts and personal information for suspicious activity.
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