I-TEAM: Slick scammers are making CSRA residents believe they are wanted for missing jury duty

Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

Scammers these days are extremely sophisticated -- even able to spoof you into believing city officials are calling you. (Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- On the night kids are hunting for treats, our I-Team is exposing a nasty trick that could cheat you out of thousands of dollars.

It's become such a problem that Richmond County deputies are working on a new way to keep track of this particular crime.

They are banking on you being afraid. Think it couldn't happen to you? This is just a small sample of people who thought the same thing -- more than 30 pages of victims paying the price for their fears.

Caller ID can be a life-saver. We’ve all used it to screen calls, but when an Augusta University professor saw a number on her caller ID, she thought it was legit.

So she also believed the message for her to call the Richmond County Sheriff's Office was legit, too.

"Of course, my mind is going, ‘Oh, my gosh. What have I done, what's going on, what do they want me for?’” Cope said.

She wasn't nervous at all when she called, though. Not until she heard this.

"You were called for jury duty and there was a non-appearance, so they've sworn out a warrant, and actually there are two warrants,” Cope recalled.

He went on to tell her she was going to jail unless she was able to work something out with a bonding company, and time was running out.

"How do I know this is not a scam? This is crazy,” Cope said. “And he said, ‘Well, ma'am, you're welcome to call your attorney at any time you want.’”

But then he said something else that really got her attention.

"He had my date of birth, and that also kind of alarmed me,” Cope said. “I mean, it's one thing to have your name, and your address perhaps, but he had my date of birth.”

The truly scary part? The date of birth was correct.

So what if this was an actual deputy with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office? It was starting to seem that way.

"My heart's going pitter patter, I'm thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ you know," Cope said.

A lot of others do know. We got our hands on all these reports with the same story -- missed jury duty. A teacher even left her elementary school to buy $1,500 in gift cards to avoid going to jail.

Other reports step it up a notch. Like this one where the victim's "Social Security information had been found in a vehicle with blood, and that it traced back to a house with narcotics inside.” She bought a lot of gift cards to clear her name -- $15,000 worth.

Another victim -- $11,000. Someone else got taken for more than $27,000. Just this week, an Augusta man lost more than $30,000.

Even a business got scammed for some "unknown legal allegations."

“We get multiple calls a day,” investigator Jesse Hammonds said.

So many, Hammonds says, that it even surprises him. Things have gotten personal with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. Some of the scammers have even used the names of real deputies.

“Names of supervisors, names of judges in the area, and saying they have warrants,” Hammonds said.

They also have knowledge of the area, telling victims exact locations of where to buy Green Dot cards. Some also have correct Social Security numbers. Speaking of numbers, we tried to call a scammer back.

But it was too late. The number was no longer in service.

They’ve likely already moved on to their next victims.

So, how difficult is it for investigators to capture these scammers?

“It’s almost impossible,” Hammonds said.

Meaning, for all these victims, their money is probably gone and justice will likely never be served.

It's also almost impossible to track how many victims there are -- even when it comes to people who report it.

Right now -- the crimes fall under fraud, or larceny-theft, or suspicious activity.

The sheriff's office is now working on a better way to make sure this phone scam can be lumped together so they can get a better picture.

“It’s really troubling, and it's infuriating,” Cope said. “It makes me really angry that people would involve our trusted officials, our elected officials."

But Cope was lucky. She got suspicious of the phone call and hung up. But she admits they were slick.

“I mean, I’ve heard of scams. I’ve been hearing about scams, thank goodness for you guys doing your programming,” Cope said.

And that’s why Cope came forward, warning any and every one to not get hung up on what the caller ID says so that you can actually hang up.

We talked to many of these victims in person -- not by phone -- because that's how the scam started. We knocked on their door, and each one told us how stupid they felt and how embarrassed they are.
Many of them told me they got caught at a bad time, too. One man's brother was dying. Another woman was taking care of her ill husband and hadn't slept much.

Before you pass judgment here, think back to a time when you could have been vulnerable, too.

Deputies want to remind you they will never call you and tell you there's a warrant for your arrest.

They'll also never take payment over the phone or on a Green Dot card or gift card of any kind. They only take payments in person, at the sheriff's office, or at the courthouse.

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