Fear Is Back! Jury Duty, Other Intimidation Scams Return

Jury duty scam

As the forecast faithful can verify, March certainly came in like a lion. But out like a lamb?

Scammers continue to be anything but sheepish in trying to steal your money and identity.

Witness the recent return of the jury duty scam. That's when fraudsters, posing as courthouse officials or police, telephone with claims you missed jury duty.

Because of that, they threaten, you're going to be arrested unless a fine is immediately paid - sometimes requested by credit card, but usually a harder-to-track prepaid debit card such as Green Dot MoneyPak. Say you never received a jury notice, and you'll be asked for personal information - including your Social Security number - to "check our records" and possibly avoid consequences, the scammers allege.

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Nonsense. Legitimate jury notices - and "no-show" and other summonses - will be delivered by U.S. mail, not telephone. Jury duty assignments are based on voter registration or property records, not your SSN. And police will never call to ask for payment to avoid a warrant or arrest, nor give advance warning of impending handcuffs.

But as demonstrated by this fast-growing scheme (which in recent weeks prompted real warnings - and victims - across the U.S.), fear and threats work for scammers. Especially when they target older Americans.

Last year, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center announced that those 50 and older accounted for about half of the nearly $11 million in losses from intimidation schemes reported to that agency.

And those were threats made only  over the Internet. (Also, that figure is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Most victims are too embarrassed to report getting scammed, or too scared when told to keep mum "or else.")

A menacing voice on the phone can be much scarier. Especially when in addition to police, scammers pose as IRS agents to solicit money and personal information.

Or as  utility company reps who say your service will be terminated because of unpaid bills.

Or as debt collectors, real or fake, who threaten lawsuits and arrest unless you pay them immediately.

Or as cohorts in the Grandparents Scam, claiming to be jailers with the key your offspring's freedom.

Or even as lottery officials who first congratulate you for winning millions, then say you need to pay taxes to claim it - and if you don't, they'll come to your home and beat you. (That's a trademark of Jamaica-based scammers, who may cite a nearby location using Google maps.)

Telephone technology helps make scammers' threats more convincing; your caller ID can be spoofed to display a name and phone number of their choosing - Medicare, the IRS or "Unavailable."

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So don't assume that the "agency" shown to be calling is actually calling. Hang up on any threatening phone call and confirm for yourself any alleged debts or infractions directly with the proper "accuser." The same applies to threats received by computer.

Real notices should come by U.S. mail - including at least one "payment due" announcement before utility service is shut off.

If trouble comes knocking, don't open the door to unexpected servicemen or government workers; their badges can be fake. Real police will likely have a marked car outside, and their hand will hold a warrant, not be open for money.

Photo: iStock

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network . You'll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.


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