ATLANTA – The U.S. District Court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia are issuing an alert to citizens concerning a scam that has cost victims thousands of dollars. Citizens continue to receive fraudulent phone calls from scammers falsely claiming to be with the U.S. District Court, the U.S. Marshals Service, or other government agencies. The scammers claim that the victim failed to appear for jury duty in federal court and threaten the victims with arrest unless they purchase a pre-paid credit card—such as a Green Dot card or gift card—and provide the card number to the scammers.
“These schemes are often carried out by state prisoners using contraband cellphones,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “While our office has prosecuted dozens of these cases, citizens should be vigilant and suspicious of anyone who claims to be from a federal agency and demands payment for failing to appear for a jury summons. In short, a representative from a federal agency or federal court will never call demanding money.”
“If you missed jury duty, the court will never call you on the phone and demand money or a gift card number,” said Lucy S. Moses, Jury Administrator for the U.S. District Court. “Everything related to jury duty is done through the U.S. Mail to the individual juror. Citizens who receive a call and question whether it is legitimate can verify by calling the jury office themselves.”
Based on reports received by the Northern District’s jury office, over the last two years, local citizens have given scammers anywhere from $400 to $13,000 out of fear that an arrest warrant had been issued due to their failure to appear for jury duty. Many of the victims took money out of their savings or retirement to pay the scammers. One elderly gentleman reported that he had given all he had – $5,000 – and was fearful of what might happen to his wife, who suffers from dementia. On another occasion, a local teacher reported that she gave a scammer $1,200 because she was going through an adoption process and did not want anything that would interfere with her ability to adopt.
Victims commonly report that the scammers sound convincing and speak authoritatively. The scammers may use real information about the victim and court addresses. They may also use the real names of law enforcement officers, court officials, and federal judges to make the scam appear more credible. They may even “spoof” the phone number on caller ID so that it falsely appears to be from the court or a government agency. In one reported instance, a scammer learned that a potential victim was getting married and threatened to cancel her wedding if she did not pay.
Citizens can protect themselves by knowing these facts about federal jury service:
●The court will always send a jury summons by U.S. Mail.
●The court and law enforcement will never demand payment over the phone.
●The court and law enforcement will never demand a gift card number to satisfy an obligation.
●A prospective juror who disregards a jury summons will be contacted through the mail by the court clerk’s office and may, in certain circumstances, be ordered to appear before a judge. Such an order will always be in writing and signed by the judge.
●A fine will never be imposed until after the individual has appeared in court and been given the opportunity to explain his or her failure to appear. If a fine is imposed, it will be in open court and reduced to writing (and will not be payable by gift card number).
Citizens who wish to verify whether they were summoned for federal jury duty may contact the Northern District of Georgia’s jury office at 404-215-1640. Citizens can report a scam phone call by contacting the FBI Atlanta Field Office at 770-216-3000.