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'This one was different' | Port Arthur woman warns of scam after being told to pay $1,500 to avoid arrest for missing jury duty

The person on the other line claimed to be Deputy Marshal Michael O'Connor, calling from the United States Citation Department.

PORT ARTHUR, Texas — The "jury scam" is making the rounds again and Port Arthur Police are warning Southeast Texans to be careful of "official calls" asking for money.

This week, Cheryl Underhill got a call saying she had two warrants out for her arrest, because she didn't show up for jury duty. 

"I said I don't know anything about this. I didn't sign anything," she said.  

The person on the other line claimed to be Deputy Marshal Michael O'Connor, calling from the United States Citation Department.

"When he said he was a deputy marshal I stood up and paid attention," Underhill said. 

The 'so-called' marshal told Underhill if she wanted to stay out of jail, it would cost her.

"He says grand total of $1,500 and he said we cannot take credit card. We cannot take debit card. We cannot take checks. He said we can only take gift certificates,” Underhill said. 

Unfortunately, Underhill fell for it, but was stopped halfway by a Target employee.

"I whispered to her, I said, this man is on the phone, and he's a deputy marshal,” Underhill said. “He is making me get these cards to pay for my sort of, my fines, my warrants, you know, they're out. She said, ma'am, you're being scammed."

279th Civil District Court Judge Randy Shelton says this isn't how jury duty is handled at the state or federal level.

"There is no scenario I can ever imagine. where anybody would contact you in some official capacity and ask you to pay a fine over the phone, let alone pay in the form of gift cards," he said.

If you get a call about missing jury duty, here's what to look out for.

  • First, the phone call is a red flag. Courts send jury duty notices through the United States Postal Service, not by phone.
  • Second, the failure to appear for jury duty is not grounds for immediate arrest.
  • Third, court officials never demand payment over the phone or via specific means.
  • Fourth, never pay an alleged fine with a gift card or money transfer. 

If something feels off, hang up and call that specific office. You can never be too careful.

"I've got a master's degree. I think I'm pretty savvy with this. I mean, I had spotted IRS scams. This one was different. This one caught me off guard because of the way he terrorized me,” Underhill said. 

Underhill says she had to dip into her hurricane evacuation savings to buy the cards, but is now working with the gift card companies to get her money refunded.

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