Latest scam targeting solos tries to bilk lawyers for “missing jury duty.” Learn how a family law attorney narrowly avoided falling victim to the hoax.
If someone threatened to arrest you, would you be able to stay calm and ask questions or would you jump at the opportunity to do whatever it took to take care of the situation? This is the basis of a scam that is sweeping across multiple cities.
We’ve all heard stories of senior citizens falling victim to fraud. It’s common for criminals to use phone or email scams to target society’s most vulnerable people. However, it now appears these scammers are getting smarter and are going after people of any age and profession.
In particular, scammers are targeting licensed professionals, such as doctors, accountants and, apparently, lawyers, who could potentially lose their license to practice if convicted of a crime and who are highly motivated to quickly resolve any such legal issue.
Cindy Harrington Napier, a licensed attorney in Kentucky who has practiced family law for 32 years, almost became the victim of a phone scam after receiving a voicemail from a man claiming to be “Lt. Yates” of the Jefferson County warrants division.
How a lawyer almost got duped
When Napier called back, the phony sheriff’s employee demanded payment on warrants for missed jury service. Napier was told she and 22 other people failed to appear for federal grand jury duty and that she needed to pay a $750 bond for each of the two charges against her.
“Yates” threatened to arrest Napier within 24 hours if she failed to comply.
Typically, lawyers are known for being highly skeptical and possessing good judgement so it could be a little surprising that Ms. Napier wasn’t more reluctant to run to the bank. However, in Napier’s defense, the recording “Lt. Yates” left on her phone did sound shockingly convincing.
According to Napier, “Yates” was very persuasive and thorough. He even knew personal details about her, such as her home address and the fact that she was an attorney.
He told her three judges, including a real Family Court judge Napier was familiar with, reviewed the list of people who missed their jury service and asked that a few attorneys be awarded an opportunity to resolve the issue in order to avoid getting a criminal record.
When Napier requested to speak with his superior, “Yates” was able to bring another person to the phone to pretend to be his “captain” and corroborate his story. He even left a message with Napier’s secretary at her law office to notify her that he was issuing a warrant for Napier’s arrest.
Once “Yates” had Napier convinced, she rushed over to her local branch of the U.S. Bank to retrieve the cash she needed to pay the fine. Luckily, the bank teller urged her to call the real sheriff’s department to report the situation.
This scam isn’t new
Lawyers have been increasingly targeted by phone and internet scammers. One example is the Internet IOLTA trust account scam that has bilked some lawyers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Fake calls warning people about missed jury duty and demanding money or personal information have been on the rise. According to U.S. District Court Clerk Vanessa Armstrong, this scam has been reported in every single federal jurisdiction, and with increased frequency.
A many as 25% of jury summons really do get lost in the mail due to outdated or inaccurate address information so it is possible for someone to be summoned and not even know about it. These scammers are taking advantage of the possibility that someone could fail to appear by accident.
This scam isn’t exclusive to phone calls. There have been reports of people receiving phony emails from their local sheriff’s department as well.
Many people don’t know that if an individual fails to show up for jury service the court will not call or email them. Instead, they’ll send a notification in the form of a postcard in the mail. A judge does have the power to impose up to a $1500 fine on someone who fails to appear; however, this fine will still not be demanded by phone.
In addition to not requesting you pay a fine over the phone, the sheriff’s office will never call someone to threaten to arrest them.
“First of all, if we have a warrant for your arrest, we’ll just show up at your door, not call on the phone,” said Sgt. Marian Devailt, a police officer who addressed a similar phone scam in Winchester City, Ohio in October 2015.
What to do if this happens to you
This scam proves how critical it is for everyone in the legal community to be aware of their rights and educate themselves about certain red flags that may indicate fraud.
- “We have a warrant for your arrest.”
- “You have missed jury duty or a court date, and must pay a fine.”
- “You are required to pay with a pre-paid debit card or a wire transfer.”
- “You must act now, or there won’t be anything else you can do.”
Be aware that law enforcement will never contact you over the phone regarding a federal arrest warrant, and they definitely will not demand money or personal information. If someone from the sheriff’s office calls or emails you, no one will fault you for inquiring further into the situation and calling the department using a verified, credible phone number.