Phone scammers claiming to be sheriff’s deputies are targeting people in Johnson and Linn Counties. The scammers claim an arrest warrant for missing jury duty has been issued for the person they’ve called, and the person needs to post a bond by purchasing prepaid gift cards.
Brian Hamilton of Iowa City was almost a victim of the scam.
A man claiming to be “Deputy Adams” of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office called around noon on Tuesday, Hamilton told Little Village. The man said a bench warrant had been issued for Hamilton, because he’d failed to respond to two jury duty summons.
“I thought it was weird, because I’d just been summoned for jury duty and done all the right things, but he explained that jury duty for the county, he was calling about city court jury duty,” Hamilton said. It was one of many plausible-sounding answers “Adams” gave to Hamilton’s questions.
“I should have realized that was wrong, but he sounded very professional, and at the beginning of the call, I felt very much on the defensive,” Hamilton said. “I was worried and I just wanted to make things right.”
Hamilton contacted Little Village because the caller was so clever and convincing, he was concerned that someone else might fall for the scheme.
“I almost fell for it, and I can certainly understand how an older person like my mother, or someone who is already worried because they’ve had some legal problems would be convinced by this,” he said.
The phony deputy warned Hamilton he could be arrested at any time because of the warrant. Then he switched tone, and tried to be reassuring. “Adams” told Hamilton that because his record was otherwise clean, the arrest warrant could be withdrawn, if Hamilton posted a $1,000 bond. The bond money would be refunded once a judge dismissed the warrant, the man explained.
He said the state works with certain partner stores to allow people to pay bond without going to the sheriff’s office, and told Hamilton to go to either Hy-Vee or Walmart and purchase a particular kind of prepaid gift card. The card would have to be paid for with cash, he told Hamilton.
“And he said that for security reasons, he would have to be on the phone listening to the whole transaction when I bought the card,” Hamilton said. “That’s when my gut kicked in, and I realized this wasn’t right.”
“If I’d done what he’d said, he’d have had all the information for the gift card, and the $1,000 that was supposedly for a bond,” Hamilton said.
After hanging up on the scammer, Hamilton called the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office to report what happened.
“They told me they’d had already had a few calls about it, and that the scammers seemed to be using a spoofed phone number that made it appear they were calling from the sheriff’s office,” Hamilton said.
The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office issued a press release on Tuesday warning about this phone scam. On Monday, the Linn County Sheriff’s Office issued a warning about a variation on this scam, involving a recorded message telling people to call “Warrant Apprehension Sergeant Bradley Taylor” about an arrest warrant for missing jury duty.
Both sheriff’s offices stress that no law enforcement agency will ever contact someone by phone and request a payment over the phone, or tell someone to buy prepaid cards to make a payment.