Recently, I was notified that I had been selected to fulfill my civic duty and serve on a jury. Like most professionals in the public accounting arena, it seemed like I was destined to be selected during the very busy month of March. Fortunately, the one-time deferral came in handy to push my service outside of the firm’s most eventful period.
The opportunity to serve on a jury reminded me of a lesser known scam, but one that has been around since at least 2005: the “jury duty scam.” This scam made news recently in Baltimore, where a law professor was nearly duped.
Recently, we posted about the IRS’ “Dirty Dozen” scams, and the jury duty scam has similar attributes. An individual will receive a call from someone claiming to be from a municipal or federal court and hear that they are being fined significantly for failing to appear at jury duty. The fraudster will often research legitimate judges’ names and courthouse information to make the ruse sound more plausible. Alas, the main goal is simply to get an unwitting citizen to pay the fine over the phone, but instead of going to the court, it goes into a criminal’s pocket.
The jury duty scam contains many common elements found in fraud schemes today:
· A demand to pay immediately – most governmental offices, even if levying a fine, will grant 30 days to dispute the finding or pay the fine and will not require immediate payment. Anyone who demands a fine or other fee be paid immediately should be viewed skeptically.
· An unusual manner of payment – in the Baltimore example above, the potential victim was asked to go to a pharmacy and put money onto the fraudster’s prepaid MoneyPak card. Anyone asking for an unconventional method of payment for an unexpected bill, fine or fee is probably trying to swindle someone.
· A request for sensitive information over the phone – when someone you don’t know calls you, tells you that you must pay money and wants to know Social Security numbers, address, bank account information and other sensitive personal data, you should be wary. Social Security number and bank account information are two specific items that ought to be kept as confidential as possible.
Generally speaking, a legitimate collector will contact you via mail or will already have your information. For instance, the IRS has traditionally used U.S. Mail to contact taxpayers with a problem; however, they are now using third-party collection agents, so taxpayers will need to be vigilant.
Keeping your secure data secure and verifying the authenticity of someone contacting you for money will go a long way toward keeping your hard-earned financial and nonmonetary assets safe.
By Dan Massey, CPA, Principal