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Urban Legends

Jury Duty Scam

The Legend

Received via e-mail, May 2006

Here's a new twist scammers are using: the Jury Duty Scam. Here's how it works:

The scammer sends you a letter -- usually just one sheet of paper folded in half and sealed but looking very official -- claiming you have been called for jury duty. It tells you that you have to show up or a warrant will be issued for your arrest.

The victim, all in a panic, shows up at the "court house" listed on the letter for "jury duty." The victim is made to sit in a large room filled with other victims for hours on end with nothing to do. Sometimes, just to "sell" the ruse, groups of victims are called into a "courtroom" where they are asked weird personal questions and then sent back to the waiting room one at a time with no rhyme or reason. At the end of the day, everyone is sent home and, in some cases, told to show up the next day to do it all again.

Scammers have been known to steal entire days from a person's life in this way.

To add insult to injury, the scam notice will promise pay for time on "jury duty," but if you read the small print the payment is generally something like $5 per day, except for the first day, plus 10 cents per mile you have to drive, but only one way. No real branch of your government would have a payment scheme that pitiful.

So far, this jury duty scam has been reported in Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington state. It's spreading across the country so you may be a potential victim, no matter where you live.

So how do you protect yourself?

Keep in mind these simple facts:

1) It's effectively impossible to tell a fake jury duty summons from a real summons, so treat any summons as fake until you are convince otherwise.

2) The summons will have a procedure on it for you to follow if you are not eligible for jury duty. Follow the procedure and indicate that you are just too busy. A real court will not make you serve on a jury if you're really busy, but scammers don't give up so easily.

3) If you do report for jury duty, you can easily tell a real jury waiting room from a fake one. A real jury waiting room will be comfortable, well lit, and staffed with polite, courteous court employees. There will be a variety of televisions and other entertainments, and a simple but tasty and nutritious buffet at meal times. If these elements are missing, you are being scammed -- run!


Behind the Legend

This is a real scam -- and good advice.

Update

We received an interesting e-mail from someone claiming to be a "judge" from the "Third District Court for the City of Los Angeles" (whatever that is), who said that following the instructions in the above item could lead one to being in "contempt of court." We looked "contempt" up in a dictionary, and it means "the state of being dishonored." Well, frankly we'd rather have a judge think we are without honor than let ourselves be scammed.


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