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Professional-sounding scammers perpetrate jury duty hoax

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The con artist who called a Greenwood woman and claimed she needed to pay hundreds of dollars or risk being arrested sounded professional, had immediate answers to her questions and even had the sounds of police dispatchers in the background.

But Debbie Jones also quickly spotted holes in the caller’s story. She had served as a juror before and knew the typical procedure for someone who misses jury duty is to let them serve another day. The man, who identified himself as a sergeant with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, also told Jones he was in his vehicle, so it didn’t make sense that Jones could hear dispatchers on the line.

When she called the Greenwood Police Department about the call, they told her it was a hoax. In the past week, the sheriff’s office and Greenwood police have received three calls from residents who were contacted by someone claiming to be a police officer. The caller told the residents they had missed jury duty and that they needed to either pay hundreds of dollars in fines or they would be arrested.

The calls appear to come from a 317 area code based on caller IDs, although police aren’t sure where they are coming from, Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said.

The detail the callers have used when contacting residents shows they’re skilled at conning people, Cox said. That means residents need to be suspicious anytime someone calls asking for money, even if they claim to be a police officer, he said.

“Really, we just need people to stop sending money on these types of (calls),” Cox said.

If people receive a call from someone claiming to be a police officer, Cox said, they need to know that police rarely spend time looking for people who have missed jury duty. He said the only time police will get involved is when a judge has issued a warrant for someone’s arrest, typically after a person has routinely skipped jury duty without contacting the court.

When Jones was contacted Monday, the caller told her she had to pay four fines totaling $668.45 for missing jury duty. The caller told Jones the fines were due that day, and she could either pay the cost or he would arrest her.

The caller was very controlled and articulate during the conversation, had answers to every question Jones asked, and gave her a phone number she could call to verify that everything he was saying was legitimate.

“He sounded like he could be a cop,” she said.

But she also was suspicious. She wondered why she couldn’t simply serve on a jury at another time. She has served as a juror and knew that, if someone can’t serve on the day they’ve been requested, typically they can request to appear on a different day. The caller told her that no, the fine had to be paid that day or she would be arrested, she said.

She also asked the caller when she was supposed to have been a juror. He told her a letter had been sent March 24, requiring her to appear at 9 a.m. April 4. Jones, who still had her mail, knew she never received a letter.

Jones also doubted that a sheriff’s deputy would call to tell her she was about to be arrested.

“People need to understand, that’s not the way the court system works, that’s not the way the police department works,” Jones said.

Cox agreed: Officers and deputies aren’t going to call a person in advance to tell them they’re about to be arrested.

After the caller told Jones she could call a local phone number to verify the phone call, Jones asked if she could meet him at the sheriff’s office to take care of the fine.

“I just thought, if you go to the police department, and they’re there in front of you, you’re going to know whether it’s a scam or not,” she said.

The caller agreed to meet Jones at the sheriff’s office; but as soon as she was off the phone, she called Greenwood police, who told her the call was a scam.

“The scary thing about it is, the guy knew our physical address. And he called me by my legal name,” Jones said.

If residents get a call from someone claiming to be a police officer, they can ask for the officer’s name and badge number and a return phone number, Cox said. But he added it’s also important to remember that officers rarely conduct investigations over the phone.

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