CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Lowcountry victims of an ongoing jury duty phone scam are sharing their stories to warn others and stop the scammers.
Roni Haskell of Summerville and Rachel Klatt of Johns Island were both called by scam artists this summer and told they were facing a fine or arrest for missing jury duty.
Haskell is a real estate agent and says she tries to always answer her phone. When a local number showed up while she was driving with her young daughters, she answered it immediately.
"I get a phone call and he introduces himself as being from Dorchester County," Haskell said. "He let me know that I had missed court and that I was under basically a phone arrest. I was not able to make any phone calls. There should be no texts out."
Haskell's first believed the call was a scam, but a recent jury duty summons planted a seed of doubt. With a child younger than seven and no form of childcare, Haskell filled out an affidavit and was excused. The scammer used that information against her.
"I told them my story or what happened and why I felt like I was excused," Haskell said. "They just played off of that."
The scammer had an answer for every question Haskell raised. She was told she could pay a fine over the phone to make the charge go away or she would be arrested.
"For me, that was just not a risk I was willing to take, so it came down to money or being taken from my kids," Haskell said.
Once the scammer convinced Haskell the call was real, the details were revealed by a second scammer identified as a Lieutenant with the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office.
"His lieutenant got on the phone and gave me very strict orders," Haskell said. "I even sat and wrote down the orders so I could understand."
The scammer told Haskell to go to the bank and take out cash. She had to take that money and go to a grocery store and purchase two Green Dot Visa Cards for $500 each. He insisted she stay on the phone the entire time.
"I was to speak to no one and I was not to have the phone to my ear," Haskell said. "It was very regimented instructions along the way. They keep telling you this is a one chance deal. If you get off the phone with us and you will be arrested."
Reluctantly, Haskell read off the numbers for the two Green Dot cards, paying a $1,000 "fine."
Rachel Klatt, a physical therapist from Johns Island shared a similar story. Her ordeal started when a scammer called her office while she was at home. A co-worker called to let her know she needed to call a Lieutenant from the Charleston County Sheriff's Office.
"That immediately made me panic," Klatt said. "I thought I was in trouble and I was trying to think of anything that could have happened or I had done."
The "Lieutenant" asked Klatt if she had a reason for missing Federal Grand jury duty. Klatt told him she wasn't aware of a jury duty summons but the "Lieutenant" said she'd signed certified mail when she received the notice.
Klatt disputed signing any documents and was told she could dispute the citation for missing jury duty but would have to complete a handwriting analysis. The scammer told her she needed to drive to 180 Lockwood in downtown Charleston. He even gave specific instructions on how to get to his office. Those details made the call more believable.
"Just super convincing that was his office, that's where he was sitting, and I had to get there," Klatt said.
The scammer also told Klatt she had a fine of $2,450 associated with missing jury duty. That fine would have to be paid before she arrived.
"I'm trying to write stuff down and I'm packing snacks for my kids," Klatt said. "At this point, I'm almost barely listening but convinced I have to do everything he says."
He told her to go to any grocery store on her way in and she would pay the fine using prepaid Reloadit cards. Like Haskell's caller, the scammer told Klatt she was not allowed to hang up the phone until she'd paid the fine and arrived at the office.
"At that point I'm thinking, if we get disconnected they're coming for me like I've done something wrong," Haskell said.
As she prepared to leave the house with her two young children, the scammer made one concession that may have changed Klatt's fate.
"I said I needed to call my mom to help with the kids," Klatt said. "He said I could put him on hold but do not hang up."
She explained what was happening and her mother called the sheriff's office and confirmed the call was a scam. Her mother connected a real sheriff's deputy to let Rachel know the truth.
"She said 'Take your kids out of the car seats, take your shoes off, go back outside and enjoy your day because your mama has saved you from being scammed,'" Klatt said.
In Summerville, Haskell's turning point came after paying $1,000. The scammer told her she had another outstanding charge for an additional $1,000.
"I knew at that moment there was no way he was getting any more of my money and I was going to go to the police department," Haskell said.
After almost three hours on the phone and $1,000 later, the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office told Haskell to hang up.
"You feel very beaten up after you get off the phone with this guy and after you realize that it is a scam," Haskell said.
Both women immediately shared their stories on Facebook. They want everyone to know what happened and what signs people need to look for to avoid being scammed as well.
"It's unfair," Haskell said. "It was unfair to me to put the fear there. It was unfair to take the money. It's happening nationwide and I am one of many, many victims but it needs to end."
Their stories are similar to several others in the Lowcountry and victim payments vary wildly from one case to another. The Charleston County Sheriff's Office had one report of a victim paying $9,000.
Local law enforcement continues to stress that these agencies will never call and demand payment over the phone for any reason. They certainly will not ask you to pay using pre-paid credit cards or gift cards such as iTunes or Google Play. The Reloadit cards even have a message online to warn people of potential scammers. If you think you have been a victim of this scam, report it to your local law enforcement agency.
If you have a scam story to share, email Kyle Jordan at Scams@live5news.com.