FORT WORTH — A scam resurfaced this week in which callers claiming to be Tarrant County court officials tell people that they failed to report for jury duty and have to pay a fine over the phone.Real county officials have received about 10 calls from worried residents trying to determine whether the calls were legitimate, county jury bailiff Paula Morales said Wednesday.They’re not, said Morales, who has worked with juries for 20 years.“It generally happens a couple times a year,” Morales said. The latest round started Monday, Morales said.The targets of the scam say a caller told them that a warrant had been issued for their arrest for failing to appear for jury duty. Next, the residents are given the option to pay a fine with a credit card to avoid arrest.To do that, of course, the target has to give up a credit card number or other personal information. “People are told: ‘Give us a credit card number. We’ll take care of it over the phone and we’ll be done,’ ” Morales said.“But people get scared. They think, ‘It’s the government’ and think, ‘Oh, my gosh. I just want it taken care of.’ ”That’s not how the court system works, she said. Bailiffs do call people who miss jury duty, but only to tell them to get to the courthouse to avoid possible sanctions. The fine for dodging jury duty can be as much as $1,000, but a legitimate court official never tries to collect it over the phone. “I don’t have the authority to assess a fine,” Morales added. “There is a due process that has to go through the court system. It’s always handled by a judge.”People who suspect they are the target of such a scam should call Morales’ office at 817-884-3820 for information. But if they have given the caller money, they should call police, who investigate fraud and other crimes, Morales said.She could not say how many people fall for the scam.But people who try it must get some traction. It has been around at least since 2005 in several states, according to the watchdog website Snopes.com.
Bill Miller, 817-390-7684 Twitter: @Bill_MillerST