They prey on people’s fear, threatening arrest for a missed summons for jury service. They are jury scammers, and they crop up with enough regularity to keep federal court personnel continually on the alert.
Recent scams in federal courts across the country are typical of the fraudsters. Callers impersonating court officials, U.S. Marshals, or other law enforcement officers telephone random victims to try to convince them to pay a fine to avoid arrest for failing to appear for jury duty. The callers insist that their victims bring cash or prepaid credit cards to the courthouse where they arranged to meet them.
“The caller’s objective is to fluster people and impede their better judgment,” said Robin Blume, clerk of court for the District of South Carolina.
A court will always send a jury summons by U.S. mail and will never demand payment or sensitive information over the telephone. In most cases, a prospective juror who disregards a summons will be contacted in writing by the court clerk’s office and may, in certain circumstances, be ordered to appear before a judge. A fine may be imposed but not until the court appearance, during which an individual has the opportunity to explain a failure to appear.
“We want to make the public aware of telephonic and impersonation scams so they can avoid becoming victims,” said David Harlow, acting director of the U.S. Marshals Service. “Please be assured that the U.S. Marshals Service will never call anyone to arrange payment of fines over the phone for failure to appear for jury duty, for outstanding warrants, or for any other infraction.”
Fraudulent callers sometimes disguise their phone numbers so that they appear to be court or law enforcement numbers on the recipients’ caller ID; they also sometimes transfer victims during the calls to create the illusion that they are speaking with government offices.
“Scams are continually becoming more elaborate, making it much harder for anyone unfamiliar with the jury summons process to identify a scam,” said Jerome Grate, Jury Administrator for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Impersonating a federal official is a federal crime punishable by a jail term or a fine, or a combination of the two. Anyone who believes they may be a victim of a scam should not provide the requested information and should immediately notify the clerk of court’s office of the U.S. district court in their area, as well as local law enforcement.