Louisiana native Beth Cenac never thought she would be the target of a jury scam. She is a professional with a master’s degree who worked as a public librarian for 30 years and previously served on a jury.
That all went out the window when a stern voice on the telephone threatened to jail her for missing jury duty, unless she agreed to pay a fine. Duped by the elaborately staged scam that followed, Cenac lost $3,000.
“I think most people go about their daily lives following the rules and when they receive a call without warning from an authority figure accusing them of a crime, they get scared and go against their better judgment,” Cenac said. “The focus quickly changes from spotting a scam to righting a wrong and clearing your name.”
Cenac is just one of many victims of a nationwide phone scam, in which individuals pose as U.S. Marshals or court employees, threatening to arrest their victims for supposedly missing a jury summons unless a fee is paid through an electronic voucher.
The U.S. Marshals Service has issued a nationwide warning regarding the phone scams and encourages the public to report the fraudulent calls.
Cenac hopes that her story will raise awareness and save others from being conned.
“I was petrified,” Cenac said. “The scammers wouldn’t let me off the phone and even when they got their money they continued to call and threaten me with arrest if I didn’t call back. The longer I stayed on the phone the more real the scam became.”
Cenac was in her car on Wednesday, Oct. 25, when she received a call from an individual impersonating a U.S. Marshal. When she questioned the call’s validity, she was fed lie after lie as the scammer used judges’ names and courthouse information for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. The caller even created the illusion of an office environment, transferring Cenac to a ‘senior’ marshal. The hoax effectively scared her into believing the lie and agreeing to pay up.
U.S. Marshals are investigating Cenac’s case and similar incidents across the country.
The importance of knowing the jury summons process has become more important than ever as scams become more sophisticated.
A court will always send a jury summons by U.S. mail and will never demand payment or sensitive information over the telephone.
A prospective juror who disregards a summons will be contacted by the court clerk’s office and may, in certain circumstances, be ordered to appear before a judge.
A fine will never be imposed until after the individual has appeared in court and been given the opportunity to explain a failure to appear.
Impersonating a federal official is a federal crime punishable by jail time or a fine, or a combination of the two. Anyone who suspects a jury scam should not provide the requested information, hang up the phone, and immediately notify the Clerk of Court’s Office of the U.S. District Court in their area, as well as local law enforcement and the FTC.
Contact information for federal courts may be found on the Judiciary’s court locator.