Beware jury-duty scam, lawmen say

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 14, 2008

FRANKLIN—Police are warning area residents about a telephone scam spreading across the country in which fraudsters pose as court employees in order to get information that allows them to steal their victims’ identities.

The so-called &uot;Jury Duty Scam&uot; is just the latest in a series of fraudulent schemes criminals have developed to trick unsuspecting people into giving away information that could be used to unlock their bank accounts.

Fraud has moved from the level of itinerants scamming their way into a victim’s home in search of a purse to steal to savvy &uot;confidence men&uot; using the phone or e-mail to gain access to entire personal identities, including entire bank accounts and credit potential.

&uot;Among all the other things (criminals will do) that is just one more thing that goes into the pot,&uot; Detective Cpl. Richard Morris of the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office said of the jury duty scam this week.

Morris had passed along a police warning about the jury duty scam, alerting both the media and local court officials to the way the confidence scheme works.

Victims report being contacted by telephone by a caller claiming to be a jury coordinator wondering why the victim did not appear for jury duty and informing them that an arrest warrant had been issued.

When the victims protest that they never received notification of pending jury duty, the scammer suggests the matter can be cleared up over the phone and asks for personal information including home addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth or even credit card numbers to help facilitate the process.

Given enough information, the scammer can assume the victim’s identity, empty his bank account and ruin his credit.

The scam takes advantage of the average citizen’s desire to stay out of trouble, according to the FBI, and it hooks many with the offer of a quick-and-easy resolution to the problem.

But the offer of a solution over the phone should trigger suspicion on the victim’s part, Morris said.

&uot;You should never think that your record can be cleared just by a phone call,&uot; he said.

Also, jury duty notices in Southampton and Franklin are hand-delivered by county deputies, and follow-up contact in the event that a juror does not respond to the first summons &uot;would almost certainly be face-to-face&uot; or through more court papers, he said.

Two simple bits of advice apply to the jury duty scam, as well as others in which fraudsters are out to steal a victim’s identity, Morris said.

First, &uot;don’t send any money or give any information, without knowing who you’re talking to.&uot;

The FBI agrees, noting in an online posting that &uot;scammers might tap your information to make a purchase on your credit card, but could just as easily sell your information to the highest bidder on the Internet’s black market.&uot;

Morris suggested that those asked to give such information ask for a phone number and identification of the caller, and then check them out with the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce or police.

Closely related is Morris’ second bit of advice: &uot;If it’s unsolicited, it’s probably bogus.&uot;

That guidance is especially pertinent to scams like the international lottery that offered &uot;prizes&uot; to people in the area last year.

Whether disguised as a notification that the recipient has won an international lottery or as an appeal from a Nigerian government official seeking help getting dirty money out of his country, all such scams rely on one momentarily forgetting the old adage, &uot;You can’t get something for nothing.&uot;