He tried to scam her. He didn’t know her husband was a journalist

A photo of Ty Rushing and Adriana Torres Martínez. The couple dealt with a jury duty scam, but luckily did not lose any money.

Ty Rushing and Adriana Torres Martínez. a jury duty scam, but luckily did not lose any money. (Courtesy Adriana and Ty)

By Amie Rivers

May 15, 2024

A Central Iowa woman almost fell for a believable scam about missing jury duty. If you get the same phone call, here’s how to tell it’s a scam.

When she went to check her voicemail, Adriana Torres Martínez freaked out.

It was “in regards to some legal documentation that I would need to go over with you, ma’am,” the caller said. Listen to the voicemail below, which was provided by Torres Martínez:

“Sgt. Cory O’Neil,” said she could call the sheriff’s office back—or, to reach him directly, he left a different phone number. Believing it to be more direct, Torres Martínez called the alternate number back, which led her through a series of prompts and back to who she thought was a real Polk County sergeant.

While she answered his questions on the phone, he told her detailed, correct information about herself—her full name, her home address. He told her she missed jury duty. Because of that, there was a warrant out for her arrest. He even provided her with a case number.

“He keeps [asking] me if I got it in the mail—my jury duty letter—because I didn’t show up on Monday of last week, and that I have a warrant out for my arrest,” she said. “I’m like, ‘What?'”

Worried it was all true, Torres Martínez texted her husband the entire time about what was going on.

Her husband happens to be my colleague—Ty Rushing, Iowa Starting Line’s chief political correspondent. And, while initially also worried his wife may have missed a jury summons, both soon realized it was all an elaborate scam.

“I was suspicious when the ‘deputy’ kept telling her we live in Polk County,” Rushing said. “When she questioned if it was a scam in the text to me, it really clicked to me that it was, indeed, a scam.”

Here’s how they almost fell for it, and the red flags to watch out for as these scams get more sophisticated:

Read: Elder fraud on rise: Older Iowans lost more than $16.4 million in 2023

Extremely common

A text message thread between Adriana and Ty.

Text messages between Adriana (on the left) and Ty, during Adriana’s phone call with a scammer.

This kind of scam is so common that the real Polk County Sheriff’s Office has recently warned residents about it.

“They’re very good at what they do,” Polk County Sheriff Kevin Schneider said, “and people are losing a lot of money.”

Missing jury duty can, indeed, result in you getting a fine or worse. But that fine will always be levied in a courtroom, by a judge—not by law enforcement officers, and not over the phone.

Besides the jury duty scam, here are other law enforcement-related red flags to look for, per the sheriff’s office:

  • Payment to avoid legal trouble or arrest
  • No in-person payment options
  • Odd or unusual payment types, such as gift cards
  • Aggressive behavior by person on phone
  • Claims there is an emergency
  • Contacts you out of the blue
  • Sounds too good to be true

Read: Sioux City Republican activist gets light prison sentence for 52 acts of voter fraud

The wrong county

Scammers can often find detailed information about a mark online. That can include information like your name, your family members’ names, your address, your telephone number, even your birthday. All of that can trick you into thinking the person on the other end is telling the truth.

But sometimes you can trip them up. Torres Martínez, a California native, has never lived in Polk County—and that was one red flag that stood out to Rushing immediately. He even reminded her of where they voted and sent her a copy of his license plate registration with their county of residence listed. Rushing also ran Torres Martinez’s name through Iowa Courts Online.

“And he’s like, ‘No, ma’am, you live in Polk County,'” Torres Martinez remembered the scammer telling her.

Read: Study Shows ‘Welfare Fraud’ Nearly Nonexistent In Iowa As GOP Aims To Restrict SNAP

Spoofing and redirecting

Screenshot of a text thread between Adriana and Ty about a scam call

Screenshot of a text thread between Adriana and Ty as they were trying to figure out if they were being scammed.

Besides impersonating an officer, the scammer also spoofed the real number to the sheriff’s office—something that is illegal, but is also difficult for law enforcement to track down and prosecute.

“These crimes are exceptionally difficult to investigate, and victims rarely get their money back,” the sheriff’s office said.

Of course, scammers don’t want you to call back the real sheriff’s office. So they’ll often give a “direct line” for you to call back instead.

That number can include the area code in which you live, further fooling an unsuspecting person. But remember that services like Google Voice let you pick any area code you wish to use and route it to your “real” number, so a “real” area code means nothing about the person’s true location.

Read: Iowan Scammed By Donald Trump Gets Nearly $1,000 Back From His Hotel

Wire transfers, gift cards, Cash App

Screenshot of text thread between Adriana and Ty during a scam call from someone else

Screenshot of text messages between Adriana (on left) and her husband Ty while Adriana was on the phone with a scam artist.

The final red flag for Torres Martínez was asking her to pay a fine via a person-to-person payment method, something she immediately flagged as suspicious.

“He’s like, ‘Ma’am, have you heard of Cashapp, Venmo or Zelle?’ And I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ I said that out loud,” she said. “He’s like, ‘Yes.’ I’m like, ‘I’ll just go in person and pay it in person.’ He’s like, ‘No, this is going to be quicker for you. That way if you get pulled over, you don’t get arrested.'”

Any real fines (remember, only a judge can issue them) are not payable via wire transfers, iTunes gift cards, Venmo, Cash App, cryptocurrency, or any other payment that is not tracked or not traceable.

Read: The super rich and big corporations to face more scrutiny from Biden’s IRS

Don’t be ashamed

After confirming all of the information with Rushing, Torres Martínez felt confident it was a scam and hung up.

“After I was like, ‘Wait a second, this is a scam,’ I started feeling better,” she said, though she added, “I felt fooled. I was mad at myself because they fooled me.”

She advised others wondering about such scams to watch out for the payment method in particular and don’t be afraid to hang up at that point.

“Nobody in high authority is going to ask you to pay with Venmo, Zelle, or Apple Pay,” she said.

 

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.

CATEGORIES: CRIME and SAFETY

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