Jury duty phone scam dupes residents

TAKOMA PARK, Md. (WJLA) - Scammers, pretending to be police officers, are calling residents across Takoma Park, demanding money in exchange for clearing phony arrest warrants. In most cases, the caller says the warrant was issued because the homeowner missed jury duty.

"The implication was it was a substantial fine that needed to be paid soon," Tom Swift, a Takoma Park resident of 20 years recalled. "It's a very disturbing invasion."

Swift, a furniture maker, was working from home Wednesday afternoon when his home telephone rang. The caller, identifying himself as Major Paul Stephens of the Montgomery County Warrants Division, told Swift he could pay $1,000 to expunge the warrant.

"The questions I asked, and the probing I did, annoyed him very much. At the same time however, he stayed on the line. But by the end of the conversation, he was less than polite," Swift added.

Without paying a dime, Swift hung-up and hit the internet, confirming the call was in fact a scam. He immediately dialed the Takoma Park Police Department.

"My brain finally kicked into full gear, and I knew it was a scam. So you know, I'm angry about it," Swift remarked.

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office oversees roughly 1800 warrants at any given time, primarily in Montgomery County Circuit Court. A spokesman tells ABC7, deputies in search for suspects will visit homes, send letters, and occasionally make phone calls. However, the department never asks for money by phone, email or in person.

"No law enforcement agency will ever call you on the telephone and cancel a warrant or jury duty in exchange for payment," Takoma Park Police Department spokeswoman Cathy Plevy said.

Although Takoma Park has assigned detectives to the case, inexpensive technology makes the chase hard, and prosecution near impossible.

"It's very hard to track people that do this because they use burner phones. Once they're done duping someone, they simply throw the phone away," Plevy added.

For instance, the Laurel, Md. phone number scammers used to call Swift Wednesday afternoon, was out-of-service by Wednesday night.

"Welcome to Verizon Wireless. The number you dialed has been changed, disconnected, or is no longer in service," an automated recording now says upon calling the number.

To date three people, including Swift, have reported the jury duty scam to Takoma Park Police. While none fell for the hoax, investigators fear that streak will change.

"It's easy to believe these things. The callers have enough information to make it seem plausible," Swift concluded. "I feel very exposed."