Saturday, December 16, 2017
Public safety

Scammers target residents in St. Petersburg and Hernando County

ST. PETERSBURG — The juror scam seems to be spreading.

A St. Petersburg woman gave $13,000 to scammers who convinced her she owed fines for missing jury duty, police said Monday.

It's one of a series of such calls that local authorities have reported lately. In some cases, callers tell people they need to purchase "Green Dot" prepaid cards to take care of fines they supposedly owe for missing jury duty. Sometimes, they claim the money will eventually be refunded, said Mike Puetz, St. Petersburg police spokesman.

The woman who lost the $13,000 agreed to buy multiple cards, he said.

Hernando County authorities also say they've experienced a similar scam.

On Saturday, deputies there received complaints about a man posing as a lieutenant with the Sheriff's Office named John Martin. In one case, he told the victim that a member of the household would be held in contempt of court for failing to comply with a grand jury summons, according to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Denise Moloney.

To get this "all cleared up," the man posing as Martin told the victim $1,300 in fees was owed. Without that money, the man told the victim, a warrant would be issued, according to the Sheriff's Office. The scammer asked for both cash and money on a Green Dot pre-loaded debit card.

The victim paid the money, which has not been refunded. No other victims have been identified, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Moloney said the Sheriff's Office would not conduct business in this manner.

"You don't do some backroom deal over the phone and the whole thing goes away," Moloney said.

The Hernando Sheriff's Office is asking anyone with information on this case or who believes they are a victim to call the Sheriff's Office at (352) 754-6830.

The Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court issued a warning about the scam in early May, after a Largo woman got a call from people making such claims.

Puetz said it's part of a long-standing series of frauds that can include callers trying to get people to pay money for supposed late utility bills, mortgage payments and so on.

Bottom line: Beware when someone tells you that you need to pay a government or utility bill through prepaid cash card.

"That's your danger sign right there," Puetz said. "Legitimate businesses, government entities, utility companies don't operate that way."

When in doubt, authorities say to verify the information with the agency in question before paying out any money or giving away personal information.

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