OREGON COUNTY -- Oregon County Circuit Clerk and Recorder of Deeds Dorothy Barton said jury scams have been around for years, but across the country there has been a resurgence in recent months.
She said this is how it works. "The phone rings, you pick it up and the caller identifies himself as an officer of the court. He says you failed to report for jury duty and that a warrant is out for your arrest. You say you never received a notice for jury duty. To clear it up, the caller says he'll need some information for verification purposes such as your birth date, Social Security number, maybe even a credit card," Barton said.
Communities in more than a dozen states have issued public warnings about calls from people claiming to be court officials seeking personal information. "As a rule, court officers never ask for confidential information over the phone, they generally correspond with prospective jurors through the mail," she said.
The scams bold simplicity may be what makes it so effective. "Facing the unexpected threat of arrest, victims are caught off guard and may be quick to part with some information to defuse the situation," Barton said.
"They get you scared first. They get people saying, 'I'm not a criminal. What's going on?' That's when the scammer dangles a solution, a fine payable by credit card, that will clear the problem," said Oregon County Sheriff Tim Ward.
He said with enough information, scammers can assume your identity and empty your bank account. "It seems like a very simple scam," Ward said. "The trick is putting people on the defensive, then reeling them back in with the promise of a clean slate."
In August 2007, the federal court system issued a warning on the scam and urged people to call their local District Court office if they receive a suspicious call. In September 2007, the FBI issued a press release about jury scams and suggested victims also contact their local FBI field office.
"The jury scam is a simple variation of the identity-theft ploys that have been seen in recent years as personal information and good credit have become a thieves' preferred prey, particulary on the Internet. 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," Barton said.