Meet me at the prison: York-area scam targets doctors
Scammers pretending to be York County sheriff's deputies are targeting York-area doctors, trying to convince them to pay "fines" for supposedly missing jury duty.
Dr. Nancy Conway-Wiley, a family doctor on South Queen Street at the southern end of York City, wasn't fooled.
But local attorney Kurt Blake — Conway-Wiley's neighbor — told The York Dispatch he knows of two local medical professionals who did fall prey to the con, to the tune of about $500 each.
Neither of the scam victims contacted authorities, at least partially because they're embarrassed, Blake confirmed.
York County Sheriff Richard Keuerleber said his deputies don't collect fines from those who skip jury duty and said that anyone who receives such a call should call 911 right away.
York City Police Lt. Gene Fells said his office will investigate if a victim comes forward, assuming the crime happened within city limits. York County District Attorney Dave Sunday said his office will monitor the situation.
Conway-Wiley said that on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 20, her secretary gave her a phone message supposedly from "Deputy Joseph Walker" stating she missed jury duty and needed to pay a fine.
The doctor said she hadn't received any notices that she had been chosen for jury duty.
'Strange': Conway-Wiley called the man, who knew her birthday and home address but wasn't using her legal name, meaning her hyphenated last name.
"I thought that was strange," she said.
"Walker" also instructed the doctor to meet him in the lobby of York County Prison, where he told her he could escort her to a "kiosk" where she could make a payment.
"That made me suspicious, too," she told The York Dispatch.
Plus, Conway-Wiley said, the self-proclaimed deputy kept asking her if she was in her car and how soon she could be at the prison, and that didn't seem right either.
"The whole thing was upsetting and weird," she said. "It kind of ruined my afternoon."
Conway-Wiley said she called York City Police and was told come in and make a report, despite her telling police that the scammer was waiting for her to show up at the prison with cash.
Fells said he hopes to speak with Conway-Wiley. He said detectives will investigate if the doctor makes a complaint.
"I have never heard of this scam before," Fells said. "I hate to say it's ingenious, because then you're giving them credit. They're just taking advantage of people who are trying to do the right thing."
York County spokesman Mark Walters confirmed there are no prison employees or deputies named "Joseph Walker." He said prison officials had not heard about this scam as of Thursday, June 21.
Kiosk planned: Walters said a kiosk is being constructed in the prison's public area. It will allow people to pay costs and fines, to pay a fee so they can be placed on inmates' telephone accounts and to add money to inmates' prison accounts.
The kiosk, once operational, will accept cash, debit cards and credit cards, he said.
Walters said the kiosk has been discussed in public meetings and in the prison, so many people are aware of it.
Sheriff Keuerleber stressed that his deputies don't collect fines for those who have missed jury duty.
"It doesn't work that way," he said, adding his office added a disclaimer to its website to urge people not to wire "fine" money either.
"There's always a case number and a receipt, and we always go before a judge," he said.
Keuerleber said York County residents have been contacted by out-of-state scammers telling them they owed civil fine money. Deputies and York County detectives are trying to identify and arrest the scammers in that case, he said.
When someone fails to show up for jury duty, a judge will send out deputies to retrieve that person and bring them to court to explain his or her absence to the judge, according to the sheriff.
Sometimes judges impose community service as a punishment for missing jury duty, Keuerleber said. It's also within a judge's right to lock up someone for contempt of court. But a fine?
"A fine is not something I've seen judges impose," the sheriff said.
Arrest warrant: One of the two medical professionals who fell prey to the jury-duty scam was told there was a warrant for his arrest, according to Blake.
The victim was told he could avoid being arrested if he met a "sheriff's deputy" at a location in York and paid him, which the victim did, Blake said.
"They played like they were a sheriff's deputy and had a little badge on their shirt," Blake said.
The other person who fell victim to the jury-duty scam also paid after being told he could pay or be arrested, according to the attorney.
Asked how educated professionals such as doctors could be fooled by scammers, Blake said he suspects it has to do with being stressed at the prospect of being arrested, coupled with the fact that they might have that amount of cash on hand.
"They value their reputation (in the community)," Blake said, and think that "for $400 or $500, it's better not to take the chance."
Conway-Wiley for her, that's quite a bit of money to have lying around.
"I have kids — I don't have cash," she said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.