Jury duty phone scam uses threat of arrest if victim doesn't pay a fine, authorities warn

Authorities are warning Americans of a recirculating phone scam involving bad actors posing as law enforcement officers who threaten to arrest the victim over not appearing for jury duty. 

A warning posted this week by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida details the scam, in which callers pose as U.S. Marshals or other government officials and claim the victim is about to be arrested for failing to appear for jury duty. 

As part of the scheme, scammers tell the victim they can avoid arrest by paying a fine. 

"The Middle District of Florida has recently received an increased number of phone calls from victims regarding these scams and deems it of the utmost importance to promote awareness and prevent more people from falling prey to such scams," the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in the notice, posted on Jan. 8. 

The scammers often provide "convincing information," including the victim’s address and date of birth, as well as the real names of federal judges or court employees, court addresses and phone numbers, and case and badge numbers, authorities said. 

Scammers may even "spoof" the phone number on the victim’s caller ID so that the call appears to originate from a court number or that of another government agency, according to the notice. 

The caller then tells the victim they can avoid being arrested by paying the fine and walks them through purchasing a prepaid debit or gift card or making an electronic payment, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.


FILE - Juror seats are pictured at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse on April 22, 2005, in Santa Maria, California. (Photo by Joshua Gates Weisberg-Pool/Getty Images)

Authorities reiterated that such phone calls are fraudulent, and citizens should not provide the caller with any personal or financial information. The warning added that no court official, U.S. Marshals Service, or other government employees will ever contact someone and demand payment or personal information by phone or email.

Such scams have made the rounds before, including warnings last year from authorities in Georgia and Texas

"We’ve seen a resurgence of jury scams in recent months where a caller demands that someone pay a fee or face arrest for missing jury duty.  Let me be clear: these calls are fraudulent," Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Corrigan said in a statement. " The court appreciates those citizens who are called for jury service and always endeavors to treat them with respect."

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Here’s what actually happens if you’re called for jury duty and fail to appear: 

The court will always send a jury summons by U.S. Mail, the notice said, added that the court will never ask for a credit or debit card number, wire transfers, bank routing numbers, or demand payment over the phone for any purpose.

A prospective juror who disregards a summons will be contacted by the District Court Clerk’s Office by mail and may, in certain circumstances, be ordered to appear before a judge. Such an order will always be in writing and signed by the judge, the notice said.

A fine is never imposed until after an individual has appeared in court and "been given the opportunity to explain their failure to appear," according to the notice. If a fine is imposed, it will be in open court and given in writing, officials said – adding that it will not be payable by gift card number.

Victims should report scams to the District Court Clerk’s Office, U.S. Marshals Service, or Federal Trade Commission. 

Calls can be authenticated by contacting the Clerk’s Office of the U.S. District Court. Each division phone number is on the court’s website at www.uscourts.gov.

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This story was reported from Cincinnati.