Phone scammers are pretending to be officials from the Lancaster County Sheriff's office as part of a scheme to trick people into believing they'd missed jury duty and must pay money to avoid punishments, including jail time.
The scenario is entirely fabricated, according to Jennifer Mulroney, an assistant district court administrator in the county.
"We would never call and ask anyone for money if they didn't show up for jury duty," she said.
Mulroney drew attention to the scam Friday afternoon — just hours after she'd heard multiple reports from people who had received the disingenuous calls.
"We had two within 30 minutes today," she said. "Neither of these citizens were on the jury list."
Mulroney described one of those calls, explaining that the recipient was told she could avoid punishment for missing jury duty by getting a money order and delivering it to someone waiting outside the local courthouse.
"We don't do that. You can't get out of jury duty by paying money, just in general," Mulroney said, adding that communications about jury service aren't typically conducted over the phone. "We do everything in writing."
The scam calls were upsetting to the potential victims, with at least one in tears because she believed she faced jail time, Mulroney said.
That's likely because the scammers are convincing, some even using a type of computer program to mimic the sheriff's office's actual phone number so that it shows up on recipients' caller IDs.
"All of that technology is out there, unfortunately," Lancaster County Sheriff Christopher Leppler said, guessing the calls are likely made through internet services.
Leppler said he'd received reports of about a half dozen of the scam calls on Friday.
Then he offered advice to people receiving them.
"Be very cautious not to provide personal information over the phone," he said, referring to both identification and financial information. "We do not take any money over the phone or ask for anything like that."
He encouraged anyone who receives a phone call about jury duty to call the sheriff's office or court administration to check legitimacy. If a call is found to be a scam, the recipient also should report it to their local police department, Leppler said.
This type of scam isn't new, the sheriff said, explaining it's been used locally in the past.
Lancaster County officials also warn against jury scams on the local court system website, where they posted information from the National Center for State Courts that reads: "Court officers will never ask for payment, a credit card or social security number for failure to appear for jury duty."
Leppler said sheriffs' offices in other areas, including at least one neighboring county, also have recently seen an increase in these types of scam calls.
"It's not just specific to Lancaster County," Leppler said.