Phone hoax forces victims to pay fine for 'missing jury duty' or face jail time

Posted at 4:43 PM, Mar 28, 2018

If you receive a call from an unfamiliar number informing you that you've missed jury duty and could be sent to jail if you don't pay a fine, be wary. The call could be a hoax.

The scam has claimed a number of victims in the Baltimore area.

At least one caller identified himself as a Lieutenant Steven Harris with the Baltimore County Sheriff's office. 

“They claimed that I had failed to show up, obey a summons in a criminal case, and that the judge had issued a bench warrant for my arrest. And they wanted me to come in right away and straighten it out or they would have to come get me,” said Professor Rena Steinzor who teaches at the University of Maryland Carey Law School.

The caller gave the address of the Towson courthouse and instructed her to meet him there with money in hand.

“He wanted $1,868 in fines for my failure to appear and said I would get the money right back,” said Steinzor.

When she explained she couldn't get down to her bank in Capitol Hill and back before the courthouse closed, he told her to purchase a MoneyPak from a CVS or office supply store. The form of payment was a red flag that alerted Steinzor to the fraud.

“I think it's stupid to target somebody who's familiar with the criminal justice system and knows that you don't go to CVS and put money on a card if you have to pay a fine in court,” Steinzor said.

A co-worker then called the Sheriff's Office who told her it was a trick.

Steinzor didn't pay but there are many potential victims. The scheme stretches into areas around the state.

Harford, Howard, Cecil, and Frederick counties have all reported similar scams recently. In Frederick County the caller gave the name of a police officer who is actively on the force. They convinced a victim to stay on the phone. The scammer didn't have an accent, they provided real addresses, and they threatened the victim with arrest.

“I think the threat that they're going to come and get you is very disconcerting. I mean, I will tell you, I made it all the way to my car,” said Steinzor.

The Baltimore County Sheriff said the fraudsster was after the code on the MoneyPak. He would've asked for the code and never appeared at the courthouse.

They also said the person in question may be from another country. When police went to investigate, the number Steinzor provided was disconnected.

Steinzor wanted to share her story because the scam can be very believable. When she initially called the number, the voicemail made it seem like it was the Sheriff's Office. They also knew where she worked.

If you get one of these calls and you're not sure, police advise you to hang up and call the agency's official number on their website to verify.

You could be fined or face jail time for failing to appear for jury service, however, courts do not call people to notify them about a bench warrant, nor do they instruct them to bring a “bond voucher” with them to the court.

For more information on the scam, click here.