Police warn Bay Area about rampant scams

Local police and federal authorities are warning people throughout the Bay Area about what seems to have become a series of never-ending schemes to try to dupe people out of their money.

In the latest version of an old scam, Marin County authorities are cautioning area residents about a so-called “jury phone scam.”

Sheriff’s officials say in this scheme, Marin County residents have been getting calls from a person claiming to be from the Sheriff’s Department and telling the person answering the phone that they failed to report for jury duty — and that a warrant has been issued for their arrest.

And, according to the caller, in order to avoid arrest,  the person on the other end of the line should pay bail or a fee.

Though no Marin County residents have been recently duped into handing over any money, sheriff’s investigators say they’ve been taking reports from residents during the past weeks about the calls.

In one case, a caller demanded $1,000 to avoid a supposed arrest.

In issuing the alert, Marin County Sheriff’s Sgt. Nina Snyder said Friday:

“Residents should be advised that the Sheriff’s Office would never call persons to inform them they failed to report for jury duty and demand payment for bail. These kinds of unsolicited fraud attempts are becoming more and more common, often targeting older residents who might be less likely to question the authenticity of the claims being made.”

Though recently reappearing in Marin County, the jury duty scam is nothing new.  If fact, the FBI has been tracking it for years. As far back as 2006, the FBI warned:

“The scam’s bold simplicity may be what makes it so effective. Facing the unexpected threat of arrest, victims are caught off guard and may be quick to part with some information to defuse the situation.”

A similar scam attempt has been recently reported in Pleasanton, as well as in San Mateo, where police have been investigating a series of other schemes throughout the spring.

San Mateo police are warning the city’s residents about the various scams, issuing their own alert:

“Telephone perpetrated scams and frauds are one of the easiest ways for criminals to make a fast buck. These bandits often target our most vulnerable community members – the elderly, infirmed, or those concerned about immigration status – but their reach can affect any one of us through a simple phone conversation. “

According to police, among the scams being reported in San Mateo:

  •  A person who calls claiming to be a law-enforcement official, saying their is an arrest warrant issued or a fine is owed for running a red-light camera.
  •   A caller who claims to be a PG&E official and saying money is owed on a utility bill.
  •  A person who calls and claims to be an IRS agent collecting tax debt.

To the south, San Jose police say scammers are trying to dupe undocumented residents out of their money by claiming to offer help in obtaining a drivers license.

In this scheme, police say the scammers are asking for up to $1,000 for their supposed services — even though a California measure signed into law last year will not allow the issuing of licenses to undocumented residents until next year.

In a San Jose police alert to the public, Sgt. Heather Randol cautioned:

“Several other states have issued driving licenses to non documented drivers and now with the passing of AB 60, California will be issuing licenses. The Department of Motor Vehicles is not issuing licenses until Jan 1, 2015.”

And in South San Francisco, police say a person was recently duped out of money after responding to a bogus Craigslist ad.

In that scam, a woman responding to a modeling ad received a check, then sent a portion of the money back to help cover the cost of a photo shoot.

Police say the woman later discovered the check was bogus, and that no photo shoot was ever booked.


John Marshall is an SFBay editor and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio.  Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.