by Mark Millican
Residents who get a phone call telling them they’ve missed jury duty, or a call or letter offering to get a property deed for them for a fee, should be aware it could be a scam, local officials say.
Although there are no reports of either scam being perpetrated on the local populace, Gilmer County Clerk of Superior Court Glenda Sue Johnson said they could be headed this way. The jury duty ruse is an actual scam — where in some cases hundreds of dollars are requested to “clear up” the missed duty, while the property deed offer may be legal but the culprit charges an exorbitant amount for what could be done at the courthouse for less than a dollar.
“(The scammers) send letters, in some instances, or they do phone calls,” Johnson explained. “And I have heard of a notice being published (in a newspaper) in some of the cases. The ad will say, ‘Land deeds. If you need a copy of your land deed, the only way to do it is by this method.’ I believe it was 80-something dollars in one instance and they would get the deed and send it to them, which is ridiculous because most people in small towns know they can come to the courthouse and get (their deed). I think the letter also talks about a time frame too, that if (the property owner) tried to get it, it would take them too long.”
Johnson said older people are often targeted.
“Because sometimes they are not able to get out and see about things,” she said. “They get to thinking if they can’t find their land deed and their papers at home, and they get real upset. They can come in here and get a copy for 50 cents, or a certified copy for $2.50 if it’s a one-page deed, and a certified copy is just as good as the original.”
The jury duty scam
On the jury scam, the perpetrators contact people and tell them they’ve missed their jury service time and in order to be cleared of it they’re going to have to pay a fine — usually several hundred dollars in order for further action not to be taken against them, Johnson said.
She was asked if the scammers were passing themselves off as representatives of the court,
“Apparently so,” she replied. “I haven’t had this to happen here yet, but it (flared up) and died down near here. The 159 counties (in the court system) are linked together and we share information by email each day. It’s happening in a lot of areas in Georgia. Anytime anybody gets something about jury duty and it’s not our sheriff’s department or my office, then it’s a fraud. If somebody doesn’t show up for jury duty here, the sheriff’s office will first try to call them. And if they can’t get them on the phone, then they will go out and tell them they need to come in.”
Johnson said any correspondence a resident receives regarding local jury duty should have the Gilmer County Clerk of Court designation with her name on the document, unless it is a federal jury summons from U.S. District Court in Gainesville.
“That would be something they certainly need to pay attention to,” she said. “But there would never be anybody calling (a local resident) about jury duty except me or the sheriff’s office.”
Johnson said the jury duty and deed scams — although the latter may not be illegal if it’s providing a service, albeit for an exorbitant fee — have been occurring in some more populous counties south of Gilmer.
“I would hate to see our residents get hurt with these scams,” she said. Anyone with questions can call the clerk’s office at (706) 635-4462.
‘If it’s too good to be true ...’
Ellijay Police Chief Ed Lacey said his office has not heard of either of the scams being perpetrated locally, but he is familiar with the various attempted shakedown methods from his prior law enforcement work in Cherokee County.
“We always had somebody trying to run something to prey on people, especially those on fixed incomes (who felt they had) a need of security for the future and couldn’t take care of themselves very well,” he said. “A lot of the time that just happens to be older people, the elderly. That can range from — and I know this happened in Gilmer County as well — the roofing scams and the paving scams where somebody comes up and they say, ‘We’ll pave your driveway, we’ve got some asphalt left over, we’ll do it for free.’ They only get half of it done and now (the scammers) start pressuring you for money for more asphalt. The same thing with the roof.”
He said the best advice is “never give anybody your personal information.”
“Never give anybody a check if you don’t know them, or a blank check,” Lacey cautioned. “Most of all, if somebody feels they’re being scammed they need to trust their instincts 100 percent. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”