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Several Ohio courts issue warnings about jury duty scam calls

Adora Namigadde

Columbus residents have become a target for a phone scam that attempts to convince victims that a warrant is out for their arrest for missing jury duty.

Both the Franklin County Municipal Court and Common Pleas Court are among several Ohio courts issuing warnings about an increase of the scam over the past few months.

Many counties in Ohio have released statements saying that these calls are a scam and that they would never issue warrants for missing jury duty, including Cuyahoga County, Warren County, Hamilton County, Butler County and Stark County, in addition to the warning from the Franklin County Common Pleas Court.

Last fall, a Cincinnati man reportedly lost $400 to the same scam.

The scammers appear as though they are calling from the Sheriff’s Department, and claim to be sheriff’s deputies. The caller insists that the person has an active warrant for their arrest for failure to appear for jury duty. The person is told that in order to avoid arrest, they must post bond by bringing cash to a sheriff’s substation or purchasing a gift card and allowing the caller to cash it.

Recently, these callers have begun using court records, which are public information, to make their facade more believable.

Judge Zach Gwin of the Franklin County Municipal Court had a friend call him to see if it was legitimate. “The caller had used my name, a case number, and a defendant that all checked out to actually be the names of people that I had cases with,” Gwin said.

Luckily, in this instance, no money was exchanged.

“This person told me about [the caller] using language that sounded like legalese, but wasn't exactly right,” Gwin said. “They were calling them Class 1 or Class 2 offenses. That's not how things are described in the Ohio Revised Code. But for maybe a layperson or somebody who's vulnerable, it would be pretty compelling to hear things like that.”

Although the caller IDs may have a 614 or 740 area code, they often aren’t coming from within Columbus.

Janet Grubb, First Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in the criminal division for the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, says that oftentimes the call is coming from a fraud center out of state or off-shore.

“It's everyone's role as a citizen, hopefully, to serve on a jury if called. But the court is not in the practice of issuing warrants for people's arrest or ordering them to pay fines,” Gwin said. “And certainly, no law enforcement officer would contact you directly and tell you that you have a warrant out for your arrest based on not showing up for jury duty.”

“It really makes you frustrated. Somebody who just doesn't know better or gets scared and makes that decision based on fear,” Gwin said.

If you receive a suspicious jury summons call and you’re unsure of its legitimacy, contact the Franklin County court’s jury office at 614-525-3450. If you believe you have been contacted by one of these scammers, contact the Columbus police non-emergency line at 614-645-4545.

Emmet is a reporting intern at WOSU 89.7 for the summer of 2024.