Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel, the FBI and other law enforcement officials warned residents that a phone scam that tries to convince callers they owe phony fines for missed jury service has resurfaced in southeast Texas.
Perrye K. Turner, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Houston office, joined other law enforcement officers in saying that best way to combat this scam is by educating the public on how not fall victim to it.
“Variations of this scam are sweeping across the nation,” Special Agent Turner said. “The criminals are threatening and sound official, and they often use the real names of local or federal law enforcement officials to make the scheme believable. Don’t be fooled – each and every case is a fraud designed to trick you out of your hard earned cash. No law enforcement official will ever call you by phone and demand money.”
The District Clerk’s Office hosted the news conference today because the number of calls by con men to Harris County residents has proliferated recently and the con men now try to dupe victims out of large amounts of money.
Several years ago, the con men typically sought $300-$400 from victims. Today, victims are often asked to pay $1,000 or more. The Precinct 1 Constable’s Office said it has investigated seven incidents that cost victims $2,000 to $7,000 in the past year.
A civil trial lawyer duped out of $1,000 during a jury service scam in August was among those who spoke at the news conference.
“These con men are sophisticated. They’re smooth talkers who pose as police officers demanding immediate payment for phony fines,” Daniel said. “But the public can avoid becoming victimized if they remember that police officers and court clerks never have and never will call demanding such payments. Please share this message with your friends and loved ones, especially the elderly.”
Besides Daniel and Special Agent in Charge Turner, Sheriff Ron Hickman and Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen also spoke at the news conference.
“The con men have always targeted the elderly. They sometimes have targeted immigrants,” Daniel said. “But these days, they are basically targeting everybody – law-abiding, rule-following citizens. They were sophisticated enough to convince a lawyer to send $1,000. Another victim was a smart, young woman who graduated from college recently.”
Here’s how the scam works: Con men posing as police officers demand immediate payment for phony fines for missed jury service. Callers are told that officers will be dispatched immediately if the fines are not paid.
The con men typically demand that callers make payments with prepaid debit cards. Law enforcement representatives at the news conference said officers never make such calls.
Residents should never provide payments, credit card information or personal information such as birthdates and Social Security numbers.
Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen said, “We have been investigating, and warning the public about this type of phone scam for quite a while, and unfortunately a few residents of Precinct 1 have fallen victim to the scam. I’m glad to be working with our government partners on the effort to halt these mean tricks by diabolical criminals. Remember: The Sheriff’s Office, the IRS and other government agencies don’t collect money by phone.”
Sheriff Hickman said, “Phone scams have been around about as long as there have been telephones, and our office has worked with numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies investigating these types of scams. In all likelihood, these types of crimes will continue, and we will continue to combat their prevalence. I would like to remind the public that no government agency will ever request payment via any prepaid debit card or gift card, and citizens should be sure to keep their identifying personal information secured.”
Harris County Clerk Stanart warned the public about a phone scam in which con men tell callers that their property deeds were not filed properly and a payment must be made immediately on the phone to rectify the matter.
Residents may report the scam to the District Clerk’s Office at 713-755-7300 or the Sheriff’s Office at 713-274-9210.
Federal investigators last year broke up a ring that was running a jury scam out of a Georgia state prison. Some Harris County residents were among that ring’s victims. But others continue to run the proliferating scam.