Luzerne County issues warning on scam involving warrant claim

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -

Scammers posing as representatives of the Luzerne County Sheriff’s Department or county judiciary have extracted thousands of dollars from area residents, the sheriff’s department warned Wednesday.

The scammers contacted several residents threatening that arrest warrants have been issued for missed jury duty.

According to the county, the call recipients were informed the warrants would be dropped if the residents paid a fine.

The residents were advised to visit a pharmacy or convenience store to purchase prepaid debit cards or iTune gift cards and provide the card numbers to the scammers over the phone to pay the fines.

Through this approach, the scammers already have stolen thousands, the county said.

The District Attorney’s Office and U.S. Federal Trade Commission are investigating.

Using technology, the scammers masked their phone numbers and set up an official-sounding answering service with voice prompts to field missed calls.

Residents are encouraged to contact the DA at 570-825-1674 and the FCC at if they were targeted in this scam or others.

County Sheriff Brian Szumski stressed his office does not contact residents with outstanding warrants by phone and never seeks payments by phone.

All payments to the sheriff are in person or through the mail by certified check or money order, he said.

Wilkes-Barre resident Bob Heim said Wednesday he was targeted by the scammers and publicly posted a warning on Facebook.

Heim said an “ominous-sounding” message was left on his landline phone around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday informing him to call the sheriff’s office. When he returned the call, a man identifying himself as Sgt. Jason Cooke, lead investigator, said Heim had two outstanding warrants for failing to appear for jury duty, with his bond set at $3,953.

When Heim asked where the jury duty notices were sent, the man provided an address that was never affiliated with Heim.

The man identifying himself as Cooke — no person by that name works in the sheriff’s department — suggested Heim come to the courthouse Tuesday night, saying he would be at the building until Wednesday morning. Heim said the man told him he was “sounding non-compliant” when Heim grilled him about specifics and refused to go to the courthouse.

The man scheduled an appointment with Heim to meet him at 8 a.m. Wednesday, but Heim said he grew increasingly suspicious and did not go. Instead, he reported the matter to police and the sheriff’s department.

Heim said he wanted to alert people through social media.

“When I got this call, it was upsetting,” he said, questioning what would have happened if he had left his residence and visited the courthouse.

The courthouse was open until approximately 9 p.m. Tuesday for a council budget work session, but security workers man the entrance to ensure visitors are there for the meeting.

“If my efforts save somebody grief and sleepless nights, it’s worth it,” Heim added.

Further more on fraud and scams:

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes