Fact Check

Jury Duty Scam

Fraudsters dupe unwary by telling they they've failed to report for jury duty?

Published Aug. 26, 2005


Scam:   Identity thieves trick the unwary into revealing their personal details by telling them they've failed to report for jury duty and warrants for their arrest are being issued.

Status:   Real fraud, potential for financial harm unknown.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2005]

Here's a new twist scammers are using to commit identity theft: the jury duty scam. Here's how it works:

The scammer calls claiming to work for the local court and claims you've failed to report for jury duty. He tells you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest.

The victim will often rightly claim they never received the jury duty notification. The scammer then asks the victim for confidential information for "verification" purposes.

Specifically, the scammer asks for the victim's Social Security number, birth date, and sometimes even for credit card numbers and other private information — exactly what the scammer needs to commit identity theft.

So far, this jury duty scam has been reported in Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington state.

It's easy to see why this works. The victim is clearly caught off guard, and is understandably upset at the prospect of a warrant being issued for his or her arrest. So, the victim is much less likely to be vigilant about protecting their confidential information.

In reality, court workers will never call you to ask for social security numbers and other private information. In fact, most courts follow up via snail mail and rarely, if ever, call prospective jurors.

Action: Never give out your Social Security number, credit card numbers or other personal confidential information when you receive a telephone call.

This jury duty scam is the latest in a series of identity theft scams where scammers use the phone to try to get people to reveal their Social Security number, credit card numbers or other personal confidential information.

It doesn't matter *why* they are calling — all the reasons are just different variants of the same scam.

Protecting yourself is simple: Never give this info out when you receive a phone call.

Origins:   This helpful heads-up began appearing in inboxes in August 2005. While this particular attempt to coerce information from potential identity theft victims is not new, it is real. In a number of U.S. states, con artists have been contacting people by phone to assert those they've targeted have evaded jury duty and announce warrants are being issued for their arrest. When the about-to-be-duped protest they never received such notifications, that surely a mistake has been made, the sharpies go after what they really want, which is their pigeons' personal and financial information. Under threat of being hauled off in paddy wagons unless they succeed in straightening out this terrible mess, many folks who would otherwise be more wary about what they reveal of their personal data will find themselves reeling off their birth dates and social security and credit card numbers in an effort to convince their callers the notifications that never arrived actually went to other addresses or were never meant for them in the first


However these calls conclude — whether those who have been approached are left with the impression they've failed to show up for jury duty and are still expected to discharge their civic duties, or that a big misunderstanding has now been resolved — their true purpose has been accomplished: the scam artists now have the information necessary to open accounts or charge goods in the names of their victims.

The scheme outlined in the message quoted above might be categorized as a "social engineering" scam — a technique which preys upon people's unquestioning acceptance of authority and willingness to cooperate in order to extract from them sensitive information.

On 22 August 2005, the Minnesota Judicial Branch issued a warning about the bogus calls. The Minnesota Judicial Branch points out its courts always use the mail to send jury service summons, communicating by telephone only after prospective jurors have returned completed summons information forms.

In New Mexico, Rep. Tom Udall has been warning citizens about the scam. As he points out, Federal courts do not require anyone to provide any sensitive information over the telephone. Most contact between a federal court and a private citizen is conducted by mail.

The Superior Court of California has posted an alert on its web site, warning that identity thieves posing as court officials have been trying to get confidential information through phone calls about jury duty. Once again, callers have been telling potential victims they failed to report for jury duty, then demanding their Social Security numbers. While court personnel may occasionally call people at home, "We never ask for Social Security numbers or personal identifying information," said Marita Ford, chief deputy executive officer for Riverside Superior Court.

In September 2005, in an effort to alert the public nationwide about the scam, the FBI issued a press release which explained that "the judicial system does not contact people telephonically and ask for personal information such as your Social Security number, date of birth or credit card numbers" and those so contacted should "not provide any personal or confidential information to these individuals."

Though the 'jury duty' information-gleaning scam has been garnering attention in 2005, it is not new. In 2004, residents of Franklin County, Ohio, were hit by this scam. At least five people called the Franklin County Municipal Court in September 2004 to ask where they were to report for duty after someone telephoned to obtain personal information. In Ohio, as in Minnesota, jury summonses are sent by mail and court workers do not call potential jurors to ask for Social Security numbers or dates of birth.

In February 2004, the scam was active in Charles County, Maryland. Once again, the fraud came to the attention of authorities via residents who had been contacted by phone afterwards asking the County Clerk about the attempts to wheedle personal information from them. They too had been asked for birth dates and Social Security numbers, that time by callers who claimed such intelligences were needed to assemble a pool of jurors for selection in upcoming trials. The Charles County Circuit Court does not telephone residents who are selected for jury duty. Potential jurors are sent notices in the mail.

In 2001 the Erie County Commissioner of Jurors reported someone in that area had been staging telephone scams about jury duty in Chautauqua, Seneca, and Jefferson counties, seeking information about home addresses and bank accounts allegedly "for reimbursement purposes." Targets of that fraud were being told by the swindlers attempting to deceive them that this information was required for the purpose of directly depositing their $40-a-day jury duty stipends. Erie County officials point out their jurors' checks come directly from Albany and not from local jurors offices, nor are these payments deposited directly into jurors' bank accounts.

Though the 'jury duty' information phishing scheme is not new, it has been heavily put to use around the U.S. in August 2005. Be wary of any calls of this nature and refuse to give out your personal information.

Barbara "verdict: not foolish" Mikkelson

How to Avoid Falling Victim to 'Jury Duty' Scams:

  • Court workers will not telephone to say you've missed jury duty or that they are assembling juries and need to pre-screen those who might be selected to serve on them, so dismiss as fraudulent phones call of this nature. About the only time you would hear by telephone (rather than by mail) about anything having to do with jury service would be after you have mailed back your completed questionnaire, and even then only rarely.
  • Do not give out bank account, social security, or credit card numbers over the phone if you didn't initiate the call, whether it be to someone trying to sell you something or to someone who claims to be from a bank or government department. If such callers insist upon "verifying" such information with you, have them read the data to you from their notes, with you saying yea or nay to it rather than the other way around.
  • Examine your credit card and bank account statements every month, keeping an eye peeled for unauthorized charges. Immediately challenge items you did not approve.

Last updated:   9 April 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Cadwallader, Bruce.   "Phone Scam Involved Bogus Jury Summonses."

    Columbus Dispatch.   15 September 2004   (p. B1).

    De Atley, Richard K.   "Jury Scam Called ID Theft"

    [Riverside, CA] Press Enterprise.   25 August 2005   (p. B1).

    Gryta, Matt.   "Alert Issued on Jury Duty Phone Scam."

    Buffalo News.   29 September 2001   (p. B3).

    Xiong, Chao.   "Phone Scam: Courts Warn the Public."

    [Minneapolis] Star Tribune.   10 August 2005   (p. B3).

    Associated Press.   "Udall Warns About Telephone Scam."

    22 August 2005.

    Associated Press.   "Identity Thieves Use Jury Duty Scam to Target Victims."

    30 July 2005.

    The Washington Post.   "Identity Theft Scam Suspected in Charles."

    13 March 2003   (p. T14).