Scams multiply – be vigilant

Aug. 28, 2014 @ 06:48 PM

There seems to be no end to the new ways thieves can try to part us from our money.

One of the latest to surface here involves trying to convince people they should pay a spurious penalty for avoiding jury service.

You may have read Keith Upchurch’s story in The Herald-Sun Wednesday that reported such instances are growing.

Here’s the pitch:

A caller claims to bne a “Lt. Blackwell” from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.  He told a woman that he had two warrants against her for failing to appear for jury duty. She owed, he said, $1,396 in fines.

But he had a deal. If she went to the store and bought two “green dot cards” – prepaid debit cards – for $500 each, he could probably let her off for just $1,000. 

She and her husband were on the way to the store to buy the cards when the husband called a relative who is a probation officer and was quickly waved off.

You may have been amazed that someone came so close to falling for the obvious scam.

Well, consider that just a couple of weeks ago, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that in Gwinnett County “at least four victims made payments as high as $900 after being told the payment would void an arrest warrant that been issued because they failed to appear for jury service.”

And consider that variations of this scam have been around for at least a decade, so one assumes it is sufficiently lucrative to encourage perpetrators to keep trying it.  One variant, reported on the rumor-quashing website Snopes.com in 2005, used an even more insidious trick.  A scammer would call a victim and claim he had a warrant for the victim’s arrest for failing to report for jury duty.

In the ensuing conversation, the scammer would elicit such information as address and social security number while the nervous victim sought to prove he or she could not have been the person “summoned.”

And, of course, somebody must continue to respond to those notorious “Nigerian banker” scams. It is so cheap to blast out thousands of those appeals at once even a minuscule “success” rate can earn a decent if illicit income.

We’re going to hope that no one who is reading these pages would ever fall for any of these tricks. But we all have weak moments, so let’s remember that no responsible official would be seeking payment for failure to appear for a jury over the phone.

It’s simple: Don’t ever give a stranger such information as your Social Security number or credit card numbers.

And heed Durham Sheriff’s Capt. Don Baker:

“Be vigilant and careful. There are people out there trying to take your money.”