Fort Worth

Beware of jury duty phone scam

The marshals service says there’s been an uptick in reports of scammers trying to finagle money from innocent citizens in North Texas.
The marshals service says there’s been an uptick in reports of scammers trying to finagle money from innocent citizens in North Texas.

Be on alert for callers posing as deputy U.S. marshals and threatening jail time for missing federal jury duty unless a fine is paid.

That’s the message from the U.S. Marshals Service for the Northern District of Texas.

“We would never ask anybody to pay a fine over the phone,” said acting U.S. Marshal Rick Taylor. “We just don’t operate that way.”

The marshals service says there’s been an uptick in reports of scammers trying to finagle money from innocent citizens in North Texas.

Taylor says his office was receiving 15-20 calls a day at one time, with at least 10 people complying with the thieves’ demand for money. The number of calls has since tapered off. The marshals service says it’s happening nationwide, with solicitors claiming to be U.S. marshals, court officers or law enforcement officials.

CBSDFW.com spoke to a woman who paid the crooks $2,000 during one such call.

“I was just trying to be a good citizen and do what I needed to do,” Robin Guinther told the news organization. “I don’t want to sit in jail.”

Taylor says the scammers have netted “thousands” of dollars from unsuspecting victims, and he believes the latest upsurge in reports is tied to the same group of con artists.

The way it typically works, he says, is that the crooks grab a person’s ID and phone number off the internet, get a little background information about the person and make the call.

“They sound very professional, the way they speak,” Taylor said. “They know some of the lingo and information about the court system so they’re able to convince some of these people to send the money over.”

They may even provide a badge number or name of a federal judge and the courthouse address.

Taylor says one potential victim had the scammer hang up so the victim could call him back. The scammer arranged to have someone else answer the phone, “U.S. courthouse,” and then pass the phone back to him.

Once the scammer has convinced the target that he or she can avoid jail time by paying the fine, he instructs them to purchase a reloadable prepaid card at a grocery store and provide the card number to the scammer for payment.

“We’re just trying to get the message out to folks to tell their family and friends, tell everybody they know, to be on the lookout for this,” Taylor said.

The U.S. Marshals Service doesn’t call anyone to arrange payment of fines over the phone for failure to appear for jury duty or any other infraction, it says in the news release. Nor does any other federal government agency.

Recently, the FBI issued a warning about phone impersonators showing up on home-phone caller IDs as “FBI” and using the actual agency phone number. The IRS later issued a similar warning. The Federal Trade Commission says impersonators are now the No. 2 consumer problem in the country.

Beware.

Tom Uhler: 817-390-7832, @tomuh

Nellie and Charles Khanamoko talk about a fake call they received claiming to be from the IRS demanding immediate payment or arrest. Both the IRS and police say it is a common scam and the IRS never calls first. They mail letters. (Star-Telegram/R

To report a scam

If you believe you are a victim of the jury duty scam, report the incident to your local law enforcement department, or to the local U.S. Marshals or FBI office. For internet-related fraud, contact the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

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