Have you received a call claiming missed jury duty? Here's what to do.
A string of scam phone calls targeting Florida residents for missing jury duty and seeking money for "fines" have raised red flags and sparked warnings from officials.
Scammers request that residents pay a fine by purchasing a gift card to county clerks' offices.
The first related scam reports were recorded in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
The Collier County clerk's office is among the local agencies alerting residents to be wary of the requests.
"As we were alerted that there's kind of this jury scam alert going on and it was reported in Manatee and Sarasota County areas," said Lisa Kasparian, spokesperson for the Collier County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller. "It's very important … The minute you hear that that is happening within Florida … You want to make sure that you get the message out to the community here in Collier County that this is going on."
Kasparian added that Crystal Kinzel, the county's clerk and comptroller, is very adamant about making sure the information is available to residents.
She says the first step is to send an alert via email or through a press release.
"And then we're cognizant of it within the offices to ensure that if anyone is bringing it to our attention, we are reporting it," Kasparian said, "because that is fraud. And it's important to make sure that a customer or anyone who receives that call hangs up and does not give any further information."
Kasparian emphasizes the clerk's office will never offer the purchase of a gift card, which she warns is a clear fraud indicator.
"It's a lot of work when someone scams you that you have to go back on," Kasparian said. "We always hear it's targeted towards the elderly, the more vulnerable … But I think these days, unfortunately, everyone is a target."
The weekly number of jurors in the county averages 1,200, depending on how many cases are heard, Kasparian said. Pleas and settlements may affect those numbers.
In neighboring Lee County, Joseph Abreu, spokesperson for the county's clerk and comptroller, says he's familiar with this particular scam.
"I know that with this particular scam, the caller acts as though they are part of an official agency or the clerk's office or the state attorney or like a law enforcement officer," Abreu said. "They claim that because someone was summoned for jury duty and they didn't show up that they're gonna get fines and they need to pay to get removed from that fine."
Just like Kasparian, Abreu says he wants people to know that the clerk's office would never call them unsolicited, especially if it's for jury duty.
"There is a variety of services that we provide and jury duty is one where we send out summonses and we get people to come in for service," Abreu said. "We won't ever call you if you don't show up for service."
Instead, Abreu says they will send a failure to appear notice in the mail from the judge.
"And that would be on their behalf, but that's if they miss jury duty," he emphasizes.
He added that if a juror misses out on their jury duty, the office will notify them via mail.
"We have a variety of scams," Abreu said. "I mean, there's scams that go on and we've documented over 20 of them, I believe."
The county's clerk office lists 21 different types of scams.
"I know that the ones that we hear about getting targeted successfully or getting scammed out of something, they're usually elderly," Abreu emphasized. "We try to educate people as much as we can about the proper procedures that you know, like sending out something in the mail rather than calling them."
He says scammers do this all over the state of Florida, but they successfully make money off of it.
Abreu said he couldn't speak to the penalties scammers would face in the county, as that would fall under law enforcement.
"What we know is just thate it's an illegal activity, and we want to educate people as much as we can about it," Abreu said.
The clerk's office will initially send hundreds of initial notices about two months in advance of a trial, Abreu said. Then, as they get closer to the date of that trial, they will call in a certain amount of jurors, so that way they could be seated.
"The Lee clerk's office will never call you unsolicited to request payments," Abreu said. "If they have questions about the validity of a phone call that they've received, they could always call our office or reach out to us in person or by email."
Tomas Rodriguez is a Breaking/Live News Reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. You can reach Tomas at TRodriguez@gannett.com or 772-333-5501. Follow him on Twitter @TomasFRoBeltran.