Tarrant County residents are being warned to watch out for a jury duty scam.
A Fort Worth woman told the Star-Telegram that she received a call on Friday from a con artist who tried to convince her that she had failed to appear for jury summons and needed to pay a fine of $5,000. The woman, who is 64, said the caller offered to take $1,000 as a down payment to resolve the issue.
“He said this is serious,” said the woman, who is not being identified by the Star-Telegram. “He asked if I wanted to give him $1,000 and we can clear this, or he could turn in the paperwork today and I could sit in jail until Monday when someone could come to bail me out.”
The woman said she wanted to alert others who might be intimidated by the threat of going to jail. The woman said when she called back and told the con artist and scolded him, saying “quit trying to take people’s money, become an honest citizen and get a job,” he started using profane language and hung up.
She contacted the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department and authorities quickly recognized the call as a scam.
Authorities say the woman’s experience was typical.
Tarrant County Jury Bailiff Paula Morales said she encourages people to be aware of the scam and report any suspicious calls to authorities.
Authorities were first alerted to the jury duty scam in 2010, said Morales, the jury services division manager for the Tarrant County court system. She said the jury services office hears about the scam once or twice a week.
The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging attempts to count fraudulent acts against older Americans, and produces an annual report. But it is difficult to say how prevalent the scam is because people are often too embarrassed to admit they have been scammed, Morales said.
One victim, an older woman, said she believed she could pay now and settle the issue later in court, Morales said.
“She said she paid $8,000,” Morales said. “She said she is not going to miss any meals but it definitely hit her savings. And sad to say, that money is gone.”
Tarrant County residents can call the jury services office or the municipal courts to determine if they missed a jury summons.
People who fail or forget to respond to a jury summons will typically get a failure to appear notice in the mail, Morales said. Ignore too many appearance notices and a judge might issue a bench warrant for your arrest, Morales said. Any fines or jail time that might be assessed will be occur after the offender has appeared before a judge.
No one will call to warn anyone that they may be arrested, an officer will just show up with a warrant and arrest a person who repeatedly ignores a jury summons, Morales said. But arrests are seldom necessary, Morales said.
“Just call us if you miss jury service,” Morales said. “We usually just re-schedule. The goal is to get people to serve, not to punish.”
Calling out the con
A caller poses as a government agent who informs the person that they missed jury duty and a warrant has been issued for their arrest. To keep from being arrested they must pay a fine. The resident is then asked to get a pre-paid re-loadable debit card to pay the fine. The scam artist uses a burner phone that can be disposed of once they get the money from the card.
If you are targeted
Do not give the caller any personal information about yourself. Contact your local police department and request to file a complaint.
What you should know
The courts do not allow people to pay a fine in lieu of jury service. A fine and jail time can be assessed, but it would still result in the jury service being rescheduled to a later date.
Who to call
Source: Tarrant County