OCEAN CITY – Resort police this week warned local residents to be wary of an identity theft scam during which the victims are told they have missed jury duty and threats of arrest warrants are made in a nefarious scheme that was reported over a year ago but made its first appearance in Ocean City just this week.
The Ocean City Police Department on Wednesday issued a warning to local residents to be on the lookout for an identity theft scam wherein callers representing themselves as officers of the court intimidate victims into giving up personal information or run the risk of being arrested. Earlier this week, an Ocean City resident received two separate telephone calls from an unidentified person claiming to be with the U.S. government.
During the conversation, the unidentified caller said the victim had failed to appear for jury duty and then disclosed the victim’s correct social security number. The victim observed the caller identification information displayed on their telephone including a 703 area code as well as the words “U.S. government.”
The victim became suspicious of the caller due to requests for additional personal information including date of birth and credit card information. The victim reported the suspicious incidents to the Ocean City Police Department, which has begun an investigation into the scam locally.
The jury duty scam first surfaced in 2005 and has been reported in several other areas of the country since then. The FBI has issued formal warnings to the public about the scam, but this week’s calls in Ocean City were the first ever reported in the resort area. The jury duty scam has been reported off and on since the fall of 2005 and has most recently manifested itself again in 11 states including Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Texas, Arizona, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington, California and others.
In the scam, a caller pretending to be a court official phones people and threateningly tells them a warrant has been sworn out for their arrest because they failed to appear for jury duty. In most cases, the caller claims to be a jury coordinator, and if the victim protests he or she never got a summons to appear for jury duty, the scammer offers to clear up the misunderstanding by asking them for important personal information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth and even credit card numbers in some cases.
This time last year, the scam surfaced in several neighboring states, prompting Worcester County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Theodore Eschenberg and the state Administrative Office of the Courts in Annapolis to issue joint warnings to the public about the scam. The joint warnings said the scam works because it preys on the fears and emotions of its victims.
“The shock of being told they are about to be arrested will place most people off guard and make them less vigilant about protecting their personal information,” the warning reads. “Real court officials want people to know the courts never ask for any personal information over the telephone. In reality, courts typically follow up with prospective and no-show jurors by conventional mail and rarely, if ever, by telephone.”
The warning issued by the OCPD on Wednesday about the appearance of the jury duty scam in the resort area echoes the same sentiments.
“A legitimate jury solicitation will not ask you for your personal or credit card information over the telephone,” the OCPD warning reads. “If they do, don’t provide it and contact the police.
The Ocean City Police are asking if you receive one of these types of ‘jury duty’ solicitations over the telephone and you think it might be suspicious, please contact the OCPD.”
Furthermore, the OCPD warned local residents to be wary of all unsolicited calls during which the caller asks for personal information.
“We would like to take this opportunity to remind people that it is vitally important to keep their personal information confidential,” the warning reads. “Never give your bank, credit card, or social security information to anyone over the phone unless you have initiated the call.”