Elaborate scam seeks money from residents for 'missed jury duty'

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Shelley Johnstone said she saw plenty of red flags when a man who purportedly worked at the federal courthouse called her last month to tell her there was a bench warrant for her arrest.

The Punchbowl area resident said the man told her the warrant was for not showing up for jury duty and that she had to pay nearly $2,000 to clear up the matter.

In hindsight, she said it was all part of an elaborate type of scam, which are on the rise in the islands.

"So many people have experienced this. ... So many people tell me I had a scam, my mother had a scam call," she said.

The federal and state court officials have recently issued warnings about jury scams. And Hawaii's Better Business Bureau said that in the past week it received similar complaints from three local consumers.

"The one thing people have to remember is you will never get a phone call from the government or the court system, saying that you must pay money or you must give us a card number over the phone or we're going to put you in jail," said Gregory Dunn, CEO of the BBB.

"If someone tells you that hang up the phone because they're lying to you. There's no way that's going to happen."

Johnstone said she was initially skeptical of the man's call. But the man was able to gain some of her trust by citing information she did not provide: her address, the name of her husband, the address of the courthouse and the name of a federal judge.

He even called her unlisted personal cell phone from a number that spoofed the federal courthouse's phone number.

She said the man told her not to pay with cash or credit card but told her to use a pre-paid "pay at kiosk" card sold at a local store.

"I said hang on, let me get this straight, I'm paying something at a courthouse with something that I buy at a supermarket? I said that just sounds crazy," she said.

Despite her reluctance, she purchased four cards, each with about $500, which is the limit for each card.

But as she drove to the courthouse she read off the serial numbers to the cards at her caller's request. That's when the money disappeared.

"By that stage you're just really feeling sick, just sick because you're violated. I always thought this would never happen to me," Johnstone said.

"The only good that can happen is to let as many people know about it as much as possible so one else gets caught in this one."

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