MRS. MURFREESBORO: Beware: Phone scammers can strike at any time

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On Tuesday I received a phone call that really shook me.

At 4:20 p.m. the phone rang on my second line. I assumed it was a fax because it stopped after two rings. Then my home line rang. Only someone who knows me well knows both numbers, so I assumed it was family and I answered it.

The caller introduced himself as Lt. Tommy Donelson from the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department. He told me, in a gruff manner, he had two summons for my arrest which I needed to address immediately to avoid being put in jail.
I told him he had the wrong person. When he verified my address, I became alarmed.

He said a letter was mailed to me in late January requiring me to report to jury duty on March 7. Because I failed to show up, I was in contempt of court and was facing two warrants for my arrest.

I told him I hadn't received a notice for jury duty. He said obviously I had and these warrants were being issued to me.

By this time I was beginning to get frightened. He said the warrants had been signed by a judge (who I know is currently serving in this county).

I kept telling him there must be some mistake. He assured me in order to avoid arrest I needed to pay my fines associated as soon as possible. He said I could set a court date and if I was proven innocent my money could be refunded.

“Lt. Donelson” sounded VERY legitimate and I asked him if I could consult with an attorney prior to paying these fees.

He continued to be gruff with me and insisted the fees be paid that day to keep me from facing serious charges. I could pay the fee immediately at the jail where I should ask for him. The sheriff’s office only accepted credit cards. The total for both fines would be $495.

At this point I told him I was going to seek legal counsel. I hung up and called a friend of mine who is an attorney. He said: "It's a scam, Jeanne.We don’t penalize people in this country for not showing up for jury duty because most of the people who get summoned want to serve."

He suggested I call the Sheriff's Office to tell them about it.

The Sheriff’s Office referred me to the Murfreesboro Police Department, and the officer helping me said he had heard similar stories but never this before. The officer first made sure there was no Officer Donelson at the sheriff’s department and that I had no warrants. (I do not.)

The phone number on caller ID was bogus (no surprise), and the Murfreesboro officer deducted that the intent was to have me give a credit card number over the phone. Because he sounded so credible and insistent, I could have easily fallen victim.

I am writing this write this to help keep anyone else from being "scammed." I am a discerning person and can usually detect guff, but this guy had me shaking in my boots.

I have read about phone scammers being prevalent lately, so if you get such a phone call, hang up. Don’t even think about giving out your credit card number. Don't be pressured into thinking you’ve been “summoned” if you haven’t received any papers. Do not feel alarmed by the person's intent.

Better yet, just hang up.

'Til next week.

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