Bamboozled: Don’t court trouble: Be on the lookout for jury duty scams

Jury duty is a privilege, even though there are times when some New Jerseyans may find it to be a ??????????????????nuisance or an inconvenience.

But what it’s never meant to be is a scam.

We’ve written about many swindles in which callers trick consumers into sharing private information or giving money for a fake service or product. It often happens during an unsolicited phone call.

Your status as a juror is another way hucksters may try to fool you to give up information so they can use it to profit for their own nefarious goings-on.

There are no current reports — that we and that the state’s courts are aware of — that jury scams are on the rise or making a comeback. But they’ve been here before, which means they’ll probably be back again.

So we wanted to share with you a bit about jury duty, how it works, and how scammers may try to use jury duty to convince you to share information that’s best left private.

“There are a lot of people called to jury service every year, and it’s always the same thing: there is a notice in the mail and it invites you to respond by mail or online with our secure web site,” said Winnie Comfort, a spokeswoman for Administrative Office of the Courts. “We never make phone calls or send emails, and we never ask for personal identifiers on the phone.”

But ne’er-do-wells will pick up the phone and impersonate jury managers, asking you for personal information. They may ask for your Social Security number, birth date, driver’s license number and other data.

bb nov. 27Others may take it a step further and tell you that you missed jury service and unless you pay a fee immediately — usually by MoneyPak card or Western Union transfer — a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

It happened in North Carolina in October, when fraudsters impersonating a court officer, or a member of the “courthouse warrant squad,” told targeted victims that warrants had been issued for their arrest because they failed to appear for jury duty.

According to several state court and local police web sites, victims were told they’d have to pay a large fee to avoid arrest, and the fee had to be paid using pre-paid debit cards. Scammers told victims they’d get the money back when they finally appeared in court for jury duty, on a false date offered by the caller, the web sites said. But when the victims would appear at court, they learned of the ruse.

Here in New Jersey, and well, everywhere else we’ve ever heard of, it doesn’t work that way.

If you miss jury duty, you can be sure the courts won’t ask for a payment over the phone to get you out of whatever trouble you may be in.

In fact, the courts won’t contact you by phone at all.

“The New Jersey Judiciary does not and has never asked for personal identifiers over the phone, by e-mail or in person,” said Judge Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of the courts, in a notice on the New Jersey court web site. “Furthermore, the Judiciary does not make follow-up phone calls nor send e-mails to jurors. Those contacts are scams.”

While you can complete your juror questionnaire online, you won’t ever be solicited to do so by email. Your first contact will always be through traditional mail.

That official jury summons includes a self-addressed return address to the Superior Court for the county in which it was sent, the web site said. And important, the summons does ask for a birth date and driver’s license number, but Social Security numbers are optional.

This is the correct web site to answer your summons, and you can find more information on possible scams and jury service in general on the site, too.

“Once you’ve signed up and answered your questionnaire, you can sign up, for example, for text messages and we’ll send you a text the night before that says you do or do not have to appear,” the spokeswoman, Comfort, said.

She added that there is no new current wave of scam calls the New Jersey courts have heard about, but it’s best for consumers to be prepared.

Comfort said consumers should know that if someone calls you on the phone about jury service, you should be suspicious and report it to your local jury manager.

And to make sure you know what a real jury summons looks like, you can check here.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com.

 

 

 

 

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