Beware of Jury Scams: How do they Work?
Anytime a person calls or contacts you saying they are a government, law enforcement, or court representative with the power to put you in jail immediately – unless you send them money – it’s a scam. One of the recent iterations of this fraud is jury duty scam, when a caller tells you that you missed jury duty and demands a fine be paid immediately through a wire transfer or prepaid gift cards.
There have been many similar scams lately in which a caller catches people off guard and demands payment, sometimes saying they’re from the Internal Revenue Service and will arrest you immediately unless a fine is paid. The jury duty scam is similar, causing alarm and worry. Often people act quickly under such circumstances, rushing to pay the fine.
Alternatively a scammer may demand personal information such as social security number to “verify” the identity of the person on the phone, thereby stealing information that can be used to defraud or impersonate. Afterward the victim may realize they’ve been scammed and become too embarrassed to report the crime.
Particularly sophisticated scams may have the ability to “spoof” official phone numbers so it appears on caller ID that they’re calling from a court office or law enforcement agency. Another version of the scam may come in an email that seeks personal information such as Social Security numbers and birthdates. Jury duty summons are always sent by U.S. mail, not email.
Reporting jury duty scams
Use the process found on the Federal Trade Commission website to report a scam telephone call.
How Jury Duty Works
- you receive a summon to jury duty for a specific day through the U.S. mail
- if you miss jury duty you are contacted by a court clerk’s office and may be required to appear in court to explain to a judge
- a fine may be imposed for missing jury duty but only after you have explained the situation to a judge
New York’s Division of Consumer Protection says that state or federal officials never ask for personal information over the phone. Individuals should only discuss such personally identifying information as social security numbers and birthdates when they have initiated the call with a reputable individual or business such as a bank, officials say.
Who the Victims are
The jury duty scam may take a new twist when elderly individuals are contacted. In this situation, they may be more likely to produce the “fine” quickly – before they realize it’s a scam – if the caller tells them it’s on behalf of a child or grandchild who will be jailed until the fine is paid. Immigrants, too, are often victims of the jury duty scam as it preys on their insecurity and potential lack of knowledge about the U.S. court records and court system. People over age 50 are most likely to be victimized by such scams but young people generally lose more money.
The Federal Trade Commission says that this sort of imposter scam was one of the top frauds of 2017, taking $328 million from individuals intimidated by the forceful argument of someone claiming to be an official. The median loss to such scams was over $700.
Ways to Avoid Scams
Telephone scams have a few things in common that keep people off-balance and unable to think through the circumstances. One of the best ways to avoid them is to not answer the phone unless it’s someone you know, and to be skeptical of any official numbers that show up on caller ID (because they can be faked). Hang up if a phone caller:
- claims to be an official of the IRS or law enforcement and is demanding money
- seeks immediate payment for a fine or payment you’re unaware of
- seeks money through untraceable methods such as gift cards or wire transfers
- threatens you with jail for an infraction you’re unaware of
- claims to be able to excuse a family member’s fine or imprisonment for a fee
If you think the call is real and you’re worried about not paying a legitimate fine:
look up the number of the agency that called you and call back to inquire about the fine