Jury duty threats a scam to steal money

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

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The sheriff’s office had a warrant for Shirley Merritt’s arrest, the man on the line told her, and she needed to fork over what sounded like bond or fine money, or face at least 72 hours in jail.

Merritt, from Hazel Dell, got the call Friday morning.

“They identified themselves as the Clark County sheriff’s department, looking for Shirley Merritt, etc., etc.,” she said. “When the sheriff’s department’s calling, you kind of want to talk to them to see what they want.”

They called Friday morning, and told Merritt she had failed to appear for jury duty, and they had a paper she’d signed saying she was notified. Merritt had been summoned for jury duty once some time ago, but was excused, and she said she never received any kind of notice recently.

It seemed fishy, but she decided to play along for a bit after they told her she needed pick up a prepaid debit card. They told her to go to Rite Aid and buy a Green Dot MoneyPak reloadable debit card so she could give them the information on the back to pay up.

“I say, ‘You go to a grocery store and pay a bond? Why wouldn’t you go to a bail bond place?’ ” she said.

Having never been arrested, she said she wasn’t exactly sure how it all worked.

She drove to Rite Aid with her husband. When they couldn’t find the cards there, the man on the phone told her to try Fred Meyer.

“I mouth to my husband, ‘We’re going to the sheriff’s office downtown,’ ” she said.

They pulled up in front of the courthouse, and the man on the line told her that if she entered the building, deputies will have to arrest her.

“So we got scare tactics going on here,” she said. She hung up, and saw a man in a suit walking out of the building.

The man said he’s a lawyer, and she asked him about getting arrested for something like this. They agreed it sounded like a scam, and then Merritt’s phone rang. She put her “lawyer” on the phone, and the man on the line promptly hung up.

Still, she went in to talk to someone in the courthouse. Clerks told her about a man who was bilked for $10,000 some time ago, and another for $900.

“The sheriff’s department has a stack of files, 2 to 3 inches thick, of this kind of stuff going on,” she said they told her.

Her husband reads the paper front to back daily, and they watch a lot of TV — they’re retired, she said — but the scam surprised her.

“They didn’t get any money out of me, but I had never heard of this one,” she said.

From what she understands after talking to courthouse staff, many victims were older.

“How many other people have never heard of this?”

Last year, the county superior court saw a similar scam. Victims were told to pay a bogus fine using prepaid cards, then told they’d get their money back at a later hearing with a judge, with a specific time and courtroom.

Failure to appear as directed after being summoned for jury duty is a misdemeanor, and court officials said they’ll send a notice or follow up with a phone call if something’s amiss, but they won’t demand money.

People with questions about odd calls or jury duty can contact court administration at 360-397-2150 or jury administration at 360-397-2049.