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Court officials: Jury duty scam on the rise

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A jury duty scam in operation in Indiana for more than a decade is on the rise again, according to state and federal law enforcement and court staff.

Chief U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson, U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler, and U.S. Marshal Chief Deputy Buz Brown stood together in a united effort Tuesday to educate Hoosiers about this scam and prevent more people from becoming victims.

“Victims who come from all walks of life have been scammed out of thousands of dollars,” Magnus-Stinson said. “As recently as this morning, a local attorney called our jury coordinator and advised he had been contacted with this scam.”

Officials said the scam runs similarly as it has in previous years, with a few attempts to appear more credible. They all begin with a phone call.

“The scammer calls the victim and tells them they’ve failed to appear for jury duty, and that warrant has been issued for their arrest,” said Magnus-Stinson, noting that the scammers often use real names and badge IDs of court employees. “The scammer threatens victim with arrest for failure to appear for jury duty, then relents and says if the victim agrees to pay a fine, he or she will not be arrested.”

That fine, according to Brown, ranges from $500 to $2,000.

“The fine is often requested to be paid via ‘electronic voucher,’ and the victim is advised they can pay the fine using a prepaid gift card,” Magnus-Stinson said.

The scammers don’t ask the victim to send the card to a suspicious post-office box. Instead, they ask the victim to send it to the local courthouse in the mail, appearing more legitimate to the victim. However, the scammers ask the victim to read the card number off over the phone for “verification” before dropping it in the mail. That’s how the scammers get paid and the courthouse gets junk mail.

“The court received envelope after envelope of depleted gift cards,” Magnus-Stinson said.

Minkler added that he has seen an increase in calls about this scam in his jurisdiction and noted that the punishment for wire fraud is 20 years in federal prison.

“This scam is not just wrong, it’s illegal,” Minkler said.

Court officials insisted that the method for contacting citizens for jury duty is through the U.S. Postal Service. Potential jurors will receive a juror survey in the mail, followed by a jury summons and then an opportunity for excuse or deferral. As for the number of people who miss a jury duty notification, the judge said that’s very rare.

“The court has not held a hearing in years for someone who has failed to appear,” Magnus-Stinson said.

So while you may be summoned to serve on a jury, there is no actual “call” for duty.