Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel and the FBI in Houston urged southeast Texas residents not to be duped by con men who pose as police officers and demand that callers pay fines for purportedly missing jury service.
A local resident was recently tricked out of $250 by such a phone scam. The scam died down after it started occurring late last year, but it has recently resurfaced in Houston and dozens of others states, prompting Daniel and the FBI to warn the public.
Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel said he requested the FBI’s help in investigating the crimes because “these criminals are giving jury service a black eye. Innocent, hard-working people have been tricked into giving these con artists money. They need to be behind bars.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner, head of the FBI’s Houston office, said one of the best ways to curb the scam is to inform the public not to fall prey to it.
“We’ve seen variations of this scam hit unsuspecting residents across the country,” Special Agent Turner said. “These scammers are using fear and intimidation to pressure victims into paying them money, and they often move from state to state very quickly to avoid detection. Educating yourself on the latest scams is the best defense, and remember – law enforcement authorities will never demand you pay a fine by phone.”
People should report scammers’ calls to the District Clerk’s jury service operation at 713-755-6392 and to your local police or the FBI. Tips to the FBI also may be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov. All tipsters may remain anonymous.
Daniel said he contacted the FBI after learning that similar scams were occurring recently in dozens of states, including California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Michigan, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
In many instances, the scam artist says he is a local police officer and often gives the name of a real local police officer and a badge number.
Daniel said the District Clerk’s Office never contacts people by phone to say that they have not appeared for jury service, never asks people to pay fines and never asks people to give debit account information, personal identification information or other sensitive information on the phone.
“If you receive such calls, do not give these con men any money or debit card information,” Daniel said.
A northwest Houston man informed the DCO that he was recently duped out of $250 by a caller who said he was a law enforcement officer seeking to collect a fine that the man owed for missing jury service. The caller threatened to send two officers to arrest him if he didn’t pay the fine.
The northwest Houston man said he was frightened so he carried out the caller’s instructions: He went to a Walgreens and put $250 on a prepaid debit card. The caller stayed on the phone with the Houston man for an hour while he traveled to the store and went in. The caller hung up only after the man read the debit card number over the phone.
The northwest Houston said the caller knew his address and did a good job of scaring him.
Earlier this year, a Galleria-area woman informed the DCO that she was tricked out of $350 during a similar scam. The woman said she came home one day to find several messages on her answering machine from a man who said he was Capt. Terry Griffin from 1200 Baker St. – the real address of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
“Capt. Griffin” told her she had failed to report for jury service and that she should appear before state District Judge Randy Wilson – a real judge – at 1201 Franklin St. – the real address of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center.
“Capt. Griffin” told her that she would be arrested if she didn’t pay the fine. He told her the fine was $350 and that he would accept a green dot prepaid debit card.
The caller stayed on the phone with her, and she put $350 on the card and gave him the number on the back. He even called her back later and said she owed more money, but she was not tricked a second time.
The jury service scam is occurring all over the U.S. In Georgia earlier this month, Ivan Cain Hamilton, 28, was charged with duping numerous victims out of at least $10,000 by posing as an officer trying to collect fines for missing jury service. Where do authorities say Hamilton ran his scheme from? From behind bars at a Georgia state prison.
An Arizona woman in her 80s was tricked out of $6,500 recently by a jury service scam, the Sierra, Ariz., Herald reported last week.
Daniel said, “These con men need to be caught, but they are difficult to catch because they often use disposable phones.”