A growing impostor scam is tricking Southern Californians who've been called for jury duty.
Callers claiming to be Orange County sheriff’s deputies are threatening people with jail if they don’t pay steep fines immediately for missing a court appearance.
Orange County resident Brenda Taylor says she was nearly tricked into paying hundreds of dollars.
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It all started when Taylor, an administrative assistant to critical care physicians, recently received a jury summons from Orange County.
“I was almost picked as juror on the case, but the judge excused me,” Taylor said.
Days after being dismissed, Taylor received a phone call from a man claiming to be an Orange County sheriff’s deputy. She says he told her she’d missed a court appearance and the judge was angry.
“The way he was talking to me and threatening me, I just said to him, ‘You tell me what I need to do. I’ll do whatever you need me to do,’” Taylor told the I-Team.
Taylor says the caller told her she needed to get a “failure to appear” retainer in order to avoid arrest. He then instructed her to go to a local supermarket to buy a prepaid gift card worth $474, which he’d accept over the phone.
Taylor says that’s when she realized something wasn’t right. Being asked to purchase a prepaid money card, instead of having to settle the issue at the courthouse, was a major red flag. So, instead, she called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department directly.
“They said ‘Just ignore it. We get these scams all the time,’” Taylor said.
“The sheriff’s department is never going to call someone over the phone and ask for money,” Orange County Sheriff Lt. Jeff Hallock told the I-Team, adding that he recently heard from an Orange County police chief who’d received one of the calls.
Taylor wonders how the impostor knew she’d been called for jury duty, suggesting perhaps it was an “inside job” at the courthouse.
While potential jurors do have to publicly state their name and where they work in open court, Hallock says he doesn’t believe that’s where scammers select their targets.
“These callers are calling so many people that they are bound to come across a couple … who may not have showed up for jury duty,” he said.
The fact that the callers are assuming the identities of real deputies makes the scam seem more real.
“What I think they’re doing is going on to our website, and they’re (finding the names of actual deputies),” Hallock said.
Taylor says the call was so convincing, if not for the mention of the prepaid phone card, she would have fallen for it.
“If he would have told me to come meet him outside of my bank or a sheriff’s office, I would have done it,” she said.
Signs of a phone scam:
- If you’re threatened in any way over the phone for a sum of money
- If you’ve received no printed bill by mail
- if you’re being asked to pay over the phone with a prepaid credit card
- If you have any doubts about whether a call is legitimate, document all the information you can, hang up and call the entity directly.