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Tampa Bay, if a caller says you owe money for missing jury duty, don’t buy it

The Florida Attorney General’s Office warns that the classic jury duty scam is surging across Florida.
Is someone calling to say you owe money for missing jury duty? It's a scam.
Is someone calling to say you owe money for missing jury duty? It's a scam. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published Jan. 26|Updated Jan. 26

To scammers hoping to get their hands on your money, not even your civic duty is sacred.

The Florida Attorney General’s office is warning of a recent statewide surge in imposters who call residents and accuse them of missing jury duty. Pay the fine, says the caller, who often pretends to be law enforcement, or risk late fees or even going to jail.

“Please know that failure to appear for jury duty is not grounds for immediate arrest,” Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a news release Tuesday.

The scam has surfaced in Citrus, Polk, Collier, Lake and St. John’s counties, and has touched the Tampa Bay area, too.

In 2019, the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office got three reports in a single day from residents contacted by people claiming to be sheriff’s deputies with arrest warrants because of missed jury duty.

“Victims are requested to make an electronic payment or purchase pre-paid gift cards to satisfy the warrant and avoid jail time,” said a warning on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.

Some scammers also contact potential victims via email, according to an alert on the Hillsborough court clerk’s website. “Don’t fall for it!” says a warning on the Pinellas clerk’s site.

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady said in a news release he was “especially troubled when people with bad intentions base their scams on what appears to be court business.”

“Our courts depend on jury service, and we rely on Floridians who are essential to this process,” he said.

Some tips:

  • Jury summons come in the mail, not by email or phone.
  • If someone asks you to pay with a gift card, it’s likely a scam.
  • Never give someone you don’t know financial or other personal information over the phone.
  • If you have jury duty questions, call your local court clerk’s office.

“We rely on our citizens coming forward to serve,” said Ron Ficarrotta, chief judge in Hillsborough County, which had more jury trials last year than any other circuit. “And they need to be confident that all communications from the court are up front and honest.”

And it’s not just a Florida scam.

In November, an unnamed complainant in California reported to the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker about being contacted by someone identifying himself as “Sgt. Mark Johnson” who said he had an arrest warrant for missed jury duty. The would-be victim had just served on a jury and knew that was wrong.

“I asked for his contact info and hung up,” the person reported. “But am still a bit shaken about how real it sounded.”

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