The Jury Duty Scam: Fact, Hype, or Fiction?
Many stories of appeared recently on incidences of juror identity theft. Even the U.S. Military has chimed on on the issue. The way the scam works is described in one article:
"The scammer calls claiming to work for the local court and claims you've failed to report for jury duty. He tells you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest.The victim will often rightly claim they never received the jury duty notification. The scammer then asks the victim for confidential information for "verification" purposes.Specifically, the scammer asks for the victim's Social Security number, birth date, and sometimes even for credit card numbers and other private information -- exactly what the scammer needs to commit identity theft.So far, this jury duty scam has been reported in Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington state. " (There are recent reports of the scam being utilized in Alabama, as well.)
Apparently, the scam began being used by February, 2004; since then, it has rapidly spread around the country.
Apparently, these scams are all too real. The FBI has gotten involved in publicizing the scams. Even Snopes.com, the pre-eminent urban legend busters, have announced that this scam is real, with an unknown potential for financial harm. It is, by all accounts, widespread and growing.
What Jurygeek finds most interesting is that Snopes described this as a "social engineering" scam: " a technique which preys upon people's unquestioning acceptance of authority and willingness to cooperate in order to extract from them sensitive information. "
My, my. This sounds strangely similar to something Jurygeek noted back in June: that the tendency of people to obey authority allows them to be too easily manipulated. While in that post, Jurygeek was referring to the tendency of jurors to be too willing to convict against their own conscientious judgment in order to satisfy or appease authority figures, in the jury duty scam, people are being asked to comply with the request of a (feigned) authority figure.
When someone saying they are about to issue a warrant for your arrest calls, people tend to respond out of anxiety and a wish to appease the threatening authority figure. What is needed to protect ourselves from these sorts of scams, as well as to protect ourselves from manipulation as jurors, appears to be a cultural paradigm shift, away from the obedience to authority and in favor of exercising individual judgment.
One can hardly envision such a paradigm shift in our educational system: what public school teacher is going to begin class by saying "I want you to question and challenge everything I tell you"? (While I try to instill this value in my own child; my wife has resorted to pulling hair - mine!) Yet so long as we treat reflexive obedience to authority as a positive, rather than a negative, trait, we are subject to malevolent manipulation - whether by judges, prosecutors -- or scammers.