The jury duty scam is showing up again with increased frequency around the country. This week, the Watauga County, N.C., Sheriff’s Office reported a number of complaints from citizens. Officials with the Clark County, Nev., Circuit Court also reported a flurry of these calls.
In each case, a caller claiming to be a court or law enforcement official tries to make people think they face arrest for failing to appear for jury duty.
It’s highly effective. If the scammer can create uncertainty in his target’s mind, it will be easier to persuade them to provide a payment to resolve the issue. But if you are alert to the red flags that will ultimately appear, you can avoid becoming a victim.
Leslie, of Tulsa, Okla., was awakened at 6:30 am recently by a caller who claimed to be a deputy with the Tulsa County Sheriff's office. He told Leslie she had failed to appear for jury duty when she was summoned in March and now there were two warrants for her arrests.
That kind of news at 6:30 in the morning would upset anyone. And as Leslie listened to the man’s spiel, she began to think that maybe she had overlooked a summons. But the scammer was a little too specific, telling her who the judge was and even the number of the courtroom.
Seeing through the ruse
“After he said the judge’s name, my husband started Googling the name he gave us and that’s when we found out there was no judge by that name in Tulsa County or the state of Oklahoma,” Leslie told ConsumerAffairs. “And his connection wasn’t great, so I knew it wasn’t a local landline.”
As Leslie’s husband searched online, he found stories about the jury duty scam and a warning about it on the United States Court System website. That warning revealed another red flag: If you fail to respond to a summons, the court doesn’t call you -- it sends a notice through the U.S. Mail.
“After a few minutes I hung up on him to see if he would call me back, and he did,” Leslie said. “The connection was terrible on the line and it sounded very muffled.”
Leslie then did the right thing. She asked for the phone number at the sheriff’s department and said she would call him back. He started to give a number, then hung up the phone.
“He did end up calling me back again and I did not answer it,” Leslie said.
Leslie avoided becoming a victim by keeping her cool and recognizing the red flags. Here are some of them:
You get a phone call early in the morning, when your defenses and thinking may be slower.
You get a phone call, period. Real jury duty issues are handled by mail.
The caller makes threats, such as imminent arrest.
The caller won’t provide a number where he can be reached.
Though it didn’t get that far in Leslie’s case, the scammer will eventually get around to money. The target will be told they can avoid arrest if they pay a fine of several hundred dollars over the phone.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia has reported that consumers in its jurisdiction have paid anywhere from $400 to $13,000 to criminals running this scam.
However, in the biggest red flag of all, the caller will demand payment in a form that can’t be traced or retrieved. Lately, the method of choice is gift cards.
If someone claiming to represent the government or the private sector calls from out of the blue and asks for payment in this manner, you can be sure that they are trying to pull off a scam. Just hang up.