BILLINGS — Phone scams are nothing new—but one jury duty scam circulating in Billings is costing victims thousands of dollars.
One Billings woman, Barbara Wells, received a phone call last Saturday from someone claiming to be from the Yellowstone County Sherriff's Office. Wells explained that her heart stopped when she got the call, as she is a caretaker for her father as well as a mother of a young adult. She feared something must have happened to one of them, but her fear quickly turned to suspicion.
After a man with a southern accent demanded a payment be made over the phone for missing jury duty, Wells decided to test him.
"I simply just said, ‘I’ll be glad to pay the fine,' because he said I didn’t show up. ‘Just stop by the store and I’ll write you a check,’ and he hung up on me," Wells says.
The scammer will ask the victim to purchase a prepaid card from a grocery store and read them the numbers off the back. Then the scammer can access the money, and the transaction is virtually untraceable.
Wells avoided the scam, but many others fell victim.
"I had a gentleman come in this week, it just broke my heart. He had sent $6,000," says Yellowstone County Deputy Jury Clerk Bernie Wahl, who wants to get the message out about how prevalent these scams are.
Working in Yellowstone County District Court, Wahl says she sees these scams all of the time. Sometimes, victims will send these prepaid cards to the court, addressed to a non-existent employee.
In the past two-and-a-half weeks, Wahl said she has seen $8,200 stolen from three people by the scammers. One thing Wahl emphasizes: This is not a scam only targeting the elderly, and anyone can fall victim. Especially those who have anxiety about jury duty or being in trouble with the law.
Wahl wants the public to know that if they ever have questions about missed jury duty, they can contact the Clerk of Court's office and someone will assist.
"If the sheriff wanted to arrest you, he's not going to call you and give you a warning and tell you to give him money. If you miss jury duty, you're going to receive a letter in the mail from one of our judges for an Order to Show Cause," Wahl explains.
Billings Police Department posted to Facebook on Sept. 2 warning the community of the scam. This is not the first time Billings police has made these types of posts.
Wells and Wahl both say it is important to stay aware of these scams and spread the word so others don't fall victim.
“I think that’s the thing, is to be aware and vigilant," Wells says. "Be on your toes constantly, and pay attention to your neighbor."