ST. GEORGE — If you receive a call from law enforcement alleging that you missed jury duty or have a warrant and now need to pay a fine, don’t be too quick to pull out your debit card.

Officials with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office are warning residents of a scam involving a caller asking people to pay $900 or more for missed jury duty.

Additionally, deputies said Wednesday they have had several reports from individuals who have received a call from someone claiming to be an employee of the Sheriff’s Office. The alleged employee then tells them they have a warrant for their arrest and must pay money to clear their name. 

The caller then instructs the individual to pay using Bitcoin or gift cards. 

The scammers appear legitimate by “spoofing” the Sheriff’s Office phone number, so the name on the caller ID appears to be coming from the agency. They also reportedly use the name of a deputy or employee of the Sheriff’s Office to further the deception.   

This is “all false,” authorities say. “Do not pay these people.”

Deputies will never ask for payment, nor does the Sheriff’s Office accept gift cards or Bitcoin as payment.

These types of scams are nothing new and first began appearing more than a decade ago.

Surrounding agencies

Last month, the St. George Police Department posted an alert on their social media page outlining a similar scam, wherein the call appears to be coming from the department’s non-emergency number and instructs their targets to pay a fine over the phone to avoid being arrested. 

Hurricane Police Department Sgt. Dan Raddatz said they have not received any reports locally reporting such a scam, but said they have had similar reports in the past and were aware of the information recently released by the Sheriff’s Office. 

Raddatz said there have been several prior scams involving jury service and warrants as a means to separate consumers from their money using threats and pressure.

These threats are very real to a majority of the people who receive these calls, Raddatz said, adding that they tend to experience an initial feeling of shock upon hearing the information followed by an immediate demand for payment. It’s this sense of urgency used by the schemer that inhibits the receiver’s ability to think in a rational matter.

Stock image | Photo by Tuan_azizi/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“These calls are unexpected, and catch people off guard, which can cause the victim to panic,” Raddatz said.

Instead, he said they react out of fear, which is real, even though the actual threat is not.

Scammers posing as state and federal authorities

The Utah State Courts website also has noted previous reports of scams involving jury duty, in which the scammer tells the individual they have failed to report for jury duty and pressures them into paying a fine using prepaid gift cards or wiring money to an unknown account.

These fraudsters also pose as law enforcement officers or court employees and use spoofing so the caller ID appears legitimate, making it appear as though the call is coming from an official agency when it is not, according to information posted by the court site.

These scams have been around since at least 2013, and also operate on the federal level, according to a press release issued Monday by the U.S. District Court and U.S. Attorney’s Office. 

The statement outlined a similar fraudulent scenario wherein a scammer calls unsuspecting residents claiming to be a federal officer or attorney of the U.S. government and then demands payment or verification of personal information to avoid being arrested.

People also have reported receiving calls from fraudsters posing as U.S. Marshals or government officials telling them they will be arrested for not appearing for jury duty unless they pay them a fine. And once the person agrees, scammers walk them through the process of purchasing a prepaid debit or gift card or making an electronic payment to pay the fine.

Stock image for illustrative purposes only courtesy of U.S. Marshals Service Fed Agent, St. George New

“These phone calls are fraudulent, and citizens should not provide the caller with any personal or financial information,” the release states, adding that in no instance would a court official, the U.S. Marshals Service, or any other government employee contact someone and demand payment or personal information by phone or email.

Additionally, anyone who falls victim to such a scam is urged to report the calls to their local law enforcement agency as well as their FBI field office and file a consumer complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, an agency with the ability to detect patterns of fraud from the information collected and share that data with law enforcement, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. 

These suspicious calls or emails also can be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which serves as both a reporting site and a national central hub run by the FBI that provides information on the latest and most harmful cyber threats. Obtained information is used to help the public better protect themselves and their families.

Anyone who has questions regarding calls involving a grand jury warrant, or from anyone purporting to be from the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, can call the U.S. District Court at 801-524-6285,  and information regarding jury duty can be found on the U.S. Courts website.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is cautioning the public to never give personal or credit card information or other sensitive data over the phone unless the caller’s identity has been verified. Authorities have also asked the public to spread the word to protect others from becoming victims.

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