Hernando jury duty scam victims speak out

Spring Hill, Florida -- A scam affecting the Bay area appears to be widening even as law enforcement agencies are warning people not fall for it.

In most cases, it involves someone claiming to be part of the justice system, demanding money then threatening to arrest the victim if they don't comply.

In Hernando County, one such scammer is even posing as a cop.

"I was panic stricken," said Anne Thompson.

Last week, she and her husband, Robert, got a very legitimate sounding phone call that sent them into a panic. A man identifying himself as a Lt. John Martin with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office told them that Anne was in contempt of court for not complying with a grand jury summons and a bench warrant had been issued to bring her in.

"He said, 'Ma'am, you're gonna be arrested today,' " said Anne.

And then came the scam. The caller said the whole thing could be "cleared up if we get this money to us right now," said Robert.

The money owed, according to the caller, was $1,376 but for $600 cash, he said, he could wipe out the warrant. The caller walked the Thompsons through every step: withdrawing cash from the ATM, loading the money onto a Green Dot cash card purchased at the local drug store, and then giving them the serial numbers to transfer the cash.

All of it a scam.

"When somebody uses that trust that society has for law enforcement to scam them out of their hard-earned dollars -- it's frustrating to say the least," said Hernando Sheriff Al Nienhuis.

The sheriff says they have a lot of manpower dedicated to the case, recognizing that a person posing as a law enforcement officer, or representative of the courts in such a manner can undermine public trust.

There's been a rash of similar fraud in the Bay area.

In Polk County last week, several people took to Facebook saying they'd gotten similar calls. There was a similar jury duty scam in Largo. And in St. Petersburg, police say an 84-year-old woman was recently bilked out of $12,000.

For the record, Hernando County says it has no "Deputy John Martin." And legitimate agencies, says Sheriff Nienhuis, do not operate this way. They don't take cash over the phone, and would not ask for your personal financial information.

If you get such a call, don't be fooled.

"Bottom line, just hang up hang up and call the police," said Anne Thompson.

"If you have any thought it's not right, just hang up and call the authorities," added Robert.


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