It’s a citizen’s duty to show up for jury duty when a letter from the clerk of court arrives in the mail.
But a cold caller who says you’re in danger of arrest for failing to appear is almost certainly a scam artist and not a law enforcement officer.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison says his department has had about three dozen complaints since fall 2013 from people who got called as part of the scam. As he notes, that’s far from all the instances in the county and across the nation, as some people never report such fraud or attempts.
“It’ll get worse during the holidays,” Harrison said. “They are going through the computers and pulling out these lists.”
Scam artists, some operating from other countries, are able to procure lists that single out older people, who are sometimes more vulnerable to scams because of loneliness, isolation or incipient dementia.
And the callers don’t hesitate to come on strong with potential victims, telling them they owe fines from the hundreds to thousands of dollars.
“Some of them get really adamant about it,” Harrison said. “They say, ‘We called and we called and you don’t answer the phone.’
“The person will say, ‘I didn’t get a call.’ It scares the heck out of them.”
According to the state justice department, crooks sometimes employ prerecorded messages or virus-laden emails instead of live calls. They may try to get information that can be used in identity-theft schemes. Typically, the caller urges the victim to get a “green-dot,” or prepaid credit card, and turn over the number to keep from going to jail.
“They’ll use an officer’s name, ‘Sgt. Jones’ or ‘Sgt. Baker,’ from the Wake County Sheriff’s Department,” Harrison said. “They’ll say, “Go ahead to WalMart and get that Green Dot card for $300. I’ll go to my supervisor and say we can work it out.”
The jury-duty scam has been around for years in different forms, but appears to be undergoing a revival. U.S. attorneys in states including Connecticut, Oklahoma, Illinois, Vermont, Hawaii and West Virginia have issued warnings against it this year.
“This is a particularly egregious scam in that it plays on people’s confusion and nervousness about serving as a juror,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said. “It truly targets people who want to participate in the American justice system if asked.”