HAYS COUNTY, Texas – Authorities are warning people of an ongoing scam involving the claim a potential victim had failed to appear for jury duty.
Kyle police said on Facebook that “Criminals are calling local residents and demanding payment in the form of pre-paid gift cards for failure to appear for jury duty or other court appearances. They even use phone numbers that appear to be from city or county government offices.” The criminals are also noted as being aggressive and threatening.
"I couldn't believe it. My blood pressure went up. I started shaking. There were people there watching me. I was scared. I didn't know what to do," said Cynthia Watts, as she described learning she had fallen victim to the scam.
After a week of missed calls, Watts answered her phone last Monday. On the other end, a caller claiming to be Mr. Wilson with the Hays County Sheriff's Office threatened her.
"He called me and said I had a warrant for my arrest. I said 'A warrant?' He said 'Yes ma'am, failure to appear -- jury duty,'' Watts recalled.
Watts had missed jury duty last year due to a death in the family, and thought the caller was referencing that.
"He said 'we can handle this two ways: we can put you in jail for four weeks before you see the judge, or you can pay $500 today on a bond and we'll let you out,'" Watts said.
Thinking the call was legitimate, Watts asked friends in her complex for help in paying it off.
"He kept me on the phone the whole time he was doing this," explained Watts, who lives off a $750 monthly disability check.
She was instructed to send money via a pre-paid card. In her case, it was a MoneyPak reload card. After the scammer spoke with a friend of Watts' over the phone, the scammer said she could send part of the money now, and the rest within 48 hours. She sent two cards with $350 on Monday, and then sent the remaining $150 the following day, where she was instructed by the scammer to go to the Hays County Sheriff's Office to pick up her paperwork.
"I even made the man a loaf of banana nut bread to take to the police station to him," said Watts.
But when she arrived at the Sheriff's Office, she was informed that she was a victim of a scam.
"People tell me, 'Well, at least you didn't get hurt.' It hurt my heart, it hurt my feelings, it hurt my pocketbook for sure," said Watts.
Since then, she's gone around her apartment complex warning people to be aware.
"I live in a senior-citizen home. People around here need to know. I told a bunch of people by mouth, but putting it on the news, maybe a bunch of people can hear about it and not get scammed and get scared like I did," said Watts.
The scam began with Mr. Wilson, who then handed the phone to a "sergeant." When Watts first called the number back, she claimed a recording came up identifying it as a Hays County Sheriff's Office line. But once the scam was complete, the number came up as a ring tone.
KVUE tried the number provided by Watts, and found it was now out of service.
"I don't know how people can do this. I know people are on hard times right now, but scamming poor people for money right at Christmastime, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night knowing I could do that to somebody like that," said Watts, who filed a report with the Kyle Police Department.
There was a similar jury duty phone scam in Hays County earlier this year.
Police remind everyone that when in doubt, you should hang up and call your local court using the public available phone number.
To learn more about jury duty in Kyle, click here.
To learn more about jury duty in Hays County, as well as more information about such scams, click here.