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by Sid Kirchheimer, AARP Bulletin, July 13, 2009
Some scams never die. The latest spin on an old identity-theft scam comes in the form of e-mails that supposedly contain a subpoena for jury duty in federal court.
Clicking on the e-mail’s attachment—as thousands of people have done, according to estimates—unleashes a computer virus that can steal passwords and online banking data, warns Oregon Attorney General John Kroger.
Many bogus e-mails currently making the rounds claim to be from firstname.lastname@example.org. USCourts.com is a legitimate business that provides electronic court data to attorneys and others in the legal system, but it is not a government agency and has nothing to do with jury duty activities. The company, which warns about the scam on the “contact us” link on its website, was likely targeted because its Web address resembles uscourts.gov, the site for the federal judicial system.
The e-mail is the latest version of a telephone con that emerged several years ago and spread across the nation in 2005. Fraudsters who said they were phoning from the courthouse claimed that the citizen, whose name and telephone number had simply been retrieved from the phone book, had missed mandatory jury duty and was about to be hit with an arrest warrant or hefty fine.
When the supposed scofflaw protested, saying no jury summons had arrived, the callers asked for personal information such as a birth date and Social Security number, ostensibly to double check against the official list of jury skippers. The fearful victims often divulged that information, giving the con men all they needed to commit identity theft.
These phony jury duty calls are still being made, with a recent surge reported in at least 11 states, according to the Better Business Bureau.
Here’s what you need to know:
• Bona fide jury duty summonses, as well as summonses for no-shows, are delivered by U.S. mail. They are never sent by e-mail, so delete any you get without opening attachments.
• In rare instances, prospective jurors might be telephoned by legitimate courthouse employees—but usually only after an authentic jury duty summons was returned via U.S. mail.
• Real court officials never ask for Social Security numbers, birth dates or other personal information over the phone.
• If you get a phone call on any subject, including jury duty, don’t rely on caller ID. Scammers can easily “spoof” the phone number, falsely indicating it’s coming from a courthouse, your bank, your credit card company or another legitimate entity. If you have concerns, look up the correct phone number yourself and call back.
• Report e-mails related to jury duty to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, and phone calls to the courthouse and your state attorney general’s office.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of "Scam-Proof Your Life" (AARP Books/Sterling).
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