Prince George’s police warn residents of jury duty telephone scams

Prince George’s County has become the latest Washington area jurisdiction to warn residents about a jury duty scam being used to extract money from the unwitting.

Callers claiming to represent the Prince George’s County Circuit Court are telling people that they are in contempt of court for failing to report to jury duty, officials said. The callers then threaten residents with immediate arrests if payments of fines are not made using prepaid cards.

“This is an absolute scam,” said Prince George’s County Circuit Court and Administrative Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams. “The court would never call a citizen and attempt to enforce a fine or threaten contempt.”

The court received a report last week from a Prince George’s resident who was suspicious about a call demanding payment for missing jury duty.

“The person had not served jury duty in a while,” Adams said. “But in this case the person’s husband was a lawyer and knew this didn’t sound right. They called the court house. We told them clearly we don’t operate that way.”

A resident would be fined for missing jury duty only by a judge in a courtroom — and only after being summoned by mailto appear.

“If you get a call about this, you should hang up,” Adams said. “If the court has concern that you did not appear for jury duty, you would get a notice in the mail.”

Police officials in several Washington-area counties, including Fairfax, Howard and Arlington, have reported similar jury duty scams.

Arlington police issued warnings last month after receiving reports from residents who received calls demanding fines that ranged from $100 to $1,000. Callers said they were employed by the police or sheriff’s department and threatened arrests, said Dustin Sternbeck, an Arlington police spokesman.

The scammers instructed victims to purchase a Green Dot MoneyPak, which is a prepaid card that can be purchased at a local retailer. A person could use the card to add money to a PayPal account or to make bill payments. Victims were urged to give the card numbers over the phone.

“They use a scare tactic to get people to react immediately,” Sternbeck said.

Some people paid the “fines,” then after becoming suspicious, reported the calls to police. “We had three incidents reported on Feb. 24,” Sternbeck said. No particular age or demographic group was targeted. “They were targeting anyone willing to pay,” Sternbeck said.

The jury duty calls were the latest in a series of scams reported by local police. Howard County police also received reports of callers claiming to represent the IRS or Baltimore Gas & Electric, said Lori Boone, a Howard County police spokeswoman. And D.C. police reported real estate ads for extremely low rents placed by scammers who stole identity information, demanded bank deposits and then disappeared.

Fairfax County police issued a jury duty scam warning April 16.

“Our message is very simple,” said Eddy Azcarate, a Fairfax County police spokesman. “No one from the courts, sheriff’s office or police department would call and threaten you with arrest and would never ask for money to avoid prosecution.”

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.
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