Lawyers are used to taking urgent calls from clients requesting immediate assistance on important matters. But when the client calls to report that there is a warrant out for her arrest, the sense of urgency rises to a new level. This is the situation that confronted business lawyer Bob Abdo recently. A longtime client had just received a call from the Hennepin County Sherriff’s Department. The deputy advised that she had failed to respond to two summonses for grand jury duty. The client denied receiving a jury summons but the deputy was adamant: Either appear at the Government Center immediately and post a $495 bond or deputies would be dispatched to arrest her at home. The deputy even provided a warrant number to reference when posting bail. The client frantically asked Bob to straighten out the misunderstanding and save her from a trip to jail.
It was a complete scam. There was no jury duty summons, no bench warrant, and the person calling not a sheriff’s deputy. Scam artists are known to call unsuspecting residents claiming that they have overdue traffic fines. After threatening the victim with arrest, the scammer offers to satisfy the fine by taking payment by credit card over the phone. This scam artist modified the old con in a way that made arrest seem even more imminent and realistic. If the client hadn’t quickly hung up and contacted Bob she would have been offered the chance to post her “bond” conveniently over the phone to avoid the trip to jail.
Every county has a warrant hotline that members of the public can call to confirm arrest warrants or report the location of someone who has an outstanding warrant. In Hennepin County the number is 612-348-2000. In Ramsey County the number is 651-266-9320. Ramsey County even has a searchable web site. In this case a call to the warrant office showed that there was no bench warrant for the client. A second call to the Hennepin County jury office confirmed that the client was registered for jury duty but had never been called.
It is important to remember that government agencies never make first contact by telephone. Whether it is someone claiming to be from the IRS, the FBI, the local police or court, all communication is initiated by letter. No government official will call to warn of a bench warrant or unpaid fine. If you ever receive a call like Bob’s unfortunate client, politely decline the opportunity to make any payment over the phone. And call Bob as quickly as possible.