When Nina Martin received a call from an unknown Cleburne number telling her she had missed jury duty, her first feeling was panic.
“I thought I had screwed up,” she said.
Martin said she received a message from a deputy at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department. He asked her for money to pay off a fine for missing an appearance in court.
Martin, a TCU dance professor, had been away for nine months on sabbatical. She said she figured that because of her changing addresses she had simply missed the notification from the jury and that she was at fault.
“I was gone for nine months, so somewhere in my mind I was thinking I had messed up,” Martin said.
The man on the phone told Martin that there was a system for residents who had missed their jury duty to buy Visa cards from Kroger as a “bond card.” He told Martin to load $1,496 on two cards.
Martin went to Kroger with the intent of buying the cards. She said she was stopped by a worker at the store who told her she was being scammed.
“I went back to my office and called a [Fort Worth] sheriff and they said that the name of [the man who called] had been buried that week.”
That person, Executive Chief Deputy Alan Dennis, had his memorial service on Wednesday. He died at age 54 from an “aggressive” form of cancer.
“I was at his funeral 48 hours ago,” said Terry Grisham, the Media and Public Relations officer at the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department. “He was a personal friend of mine and we’re grieving. We feel almost like a co-victim.”
Grisham said that cases like this are very common. He added that last year another officer in their department died and his name had been used for a similar scam.
“People need to know: We never collect fines over the telephone,” Grisham said. “There’s nothing about it that’s authentic; it’s wrong on every level.”
Grisham said there are variations of the scam but that it happens constantly. He said some scammers will tell their victims to meet them outside of the sheriff’s office to collect the money in order to help them out by “avoiding parking.”
“I would give anything if someone would just tell us to arrest whoever is showing up outside the sheriff’s department,” Grisham said.
Martin said she had picked up on multiple red flags from the calls, but she didn’t pay much attention to them before attempting to buy the two Visa cards.
“I live a very complicated life,” she said. “Things definitely can fall through the cracks.”
Grisham said that anyone who receives a similar call or request from someone who says they are a police officer or sheriff should always reach out to the department first.
“This is a common scam,” Grisham said. “They sit there and do hundreds and hundreds of these every day. The victims are just endless.”
Martin said that most of all she was thankful that she realized it was a scam before it was too late.
Grisham added that people should always be aware of scams and use common sense if something doesn’t feel right.
“I don’t know how you can teach common sense,” Grisham said. “The criminals would all be out of business.”