A prominent local woman was on her way to falling victim to an expensive scam Tuesday when she decided to call the judge whose name had been mentioned by the scam artist.
Paula Henderson said the call to General Sessions Court Judge Christie Sell alerted her to the fact that she was being played by a crook.
Ms. Henderson said she got a call from a "Lt. John Roberts" who told her she had failed to show up for jury duty and was in danger of going to jail or face a $400 fine.
She was told that the matter could be settled if she would load some money onto a card and then relay the information about the card to the "lieutenant."
Ms. Henderson was told that the action against her was out of the court of Judge Sell.
A frantic Ms. Henderson stopped long enough to send this message to Judge Sell, who is a friend:
"I was served for jury duty in your court in Feb., but it was sent to my 4 year old address on Market St. Now they are going to arrest me or charge me a $400 fine. The warrant came from you.
Can you help me??
I am talking with Lt John Roberts @ 356-2987.
Judge Sell said she immediately called Ms. Henderson and told her not to go to Walgreen's to put the money on the card. The judge also told her to call the police. She told Ms. Henderson that her court has no dealings with juries and that delinquent jurors are not in danger of going to jail or fined - especially without due process.
Judge Sell said Wednesday, "This is a complete fraud that our citizens should be beware of. It is a travesty when someone tries to undermine the justice system in this way."
She noted that Ms. Henderson has been chosen as a Woman of Distinction and is a Rotary Club member.
She said she checked with court officials who handle the jurors and was told there have been other similar calls recently. In each case, the "victim" had never been given a jury summons.
Ms. Henderson said, "This could happen to anyone. It seemed really legit up to a point and, if I had not had Christie to speak with and the fact that she followed up on it for me, I could easily have believed their 'con'. I even mentioned her name to them after they said the 'warrant' had come from her court, knowing that she doesn't do jury trials. They actually continued to call me last night until 10:30. I did not answer the phone but recognized the number.
"People should know the Sheriff's Office is not behind this and that the courts don't require money from anyone over the phone for any reason."
The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office along with other law enforcement agencies in Hamilton County have received numerous complaints over the last several weeks from citizens concerning the latest “Green Dot Card Scam.”
Victims are being contacted by phone from a male party who identifies himself as a Lieutenant with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. The imposter will tell the victim they have failed to appear in court on a warrant, so to avoid going to jail he will direct them to go to WalMart or Rite Aid and purchase a Green Dot Card for a designated amount of money. The victim is then advised to call the imposter back and provide him with the numbers shown on the card.
The HCSO does not follow up on outstanding warrants in this fashion. The standard practice is to contact the person who may have an outstanding warrant and coordinate with them to either turn themselves in at the jail or Detectives assigned to the Fugitive Division will physically apprehend the individual.
If anyone receives a phone call from a person representing themselves as law enforcement and asking the person to obtain a “Green Dot Card” or anyone having knowledge of the identity of those perpetrating this scam, should immediately contact the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office at 423 209-8940.