En español | The phone rings. "I'm calling from the local courthouse," the voice at the other end tells you — you're about to be arrested because you didn't show up for jury duty.
Relax. These calls are part of a resurgence of the "jury duty scam," first revealed by Scam Alert in May 2006. The following month, the FBI issued a warning about this ruse, which at that time hit people in at least 11 states. In recent weeks, there have been scattered reports that this ploy has resurfaced in some parts of the country.
The warning of your imminent arrest is intended to scare you into making the usual response: I never received a jury duty summons. Then, claiming to want to clear up the matter, the caller asks you to verify your identity — by providing your Social Security number, birth date and possibly bank or credit card account numbers. Revealing such details can help the caller steal your identity and get credit cards, loans and medical services in your name and at your expense.
As in other telephone scams, the jury duty ruse can appear authentic because your caller ID screen may indicate that the call is coming from a local courthouse. That's because the caller is using "spoofing" products — widely sold on the Internet — that allow the display of any phone number and name on your caller ID.
But the universal verdict from officials is this: Hang up without providing any personal information. You can be sure these calls are phony. Here's why:
Authentic "no-show" summonses for missed jury duty are nearly always delivered by mail. In rare instances when actual court officials may telephone you, they won't ask for personal information.
Legitimate officials don't give a heads-up warning about an impending arrest.
Real court officials would call during office hours, not in the evening when many of these calls occur. Scammers, gleaning names and addresses from phone books or public records, often call after hours when people are more likely to be home.
If you receive a call about missing jury duty, you can authenticate it by looking up the courthouse number yourself. Call and ask for the jury duty coordinator or court clerk's office. Report scam calls to your courthouse and the state attorney general's office.
Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.