November 9, 2020
Jury duty robocall scams are already commonplace. These scams involve an email, phone call, or letter telling people they were summoned for jury duty, failed to appear, and now owe a fine or will be hauled before a judge unless they make an immediate payment or provide personal information such as a Social Security number. Another common iteration is to include a link in a text or email that installs malware on the person’s device once clicked, giving the scammer access to personal information. Robocalls by foreign actors during the 2020 election season showed “it can be very difficult to react quickly to a large calling volume campaign”. One malicious scheme was to tell people to stay home. Could these stay home scams be refocused to the courts once the election is over?
Multiple polls, including an NCSC poll, reveal out of the three branches of government Americans have the most trust in the judicial branch. Susan Spaulding, a national security expert, reports adversary nations are actively working to undermine the legitimacy of the courts as part of a broad campaign against democracy. The global pandemic forced courts to change the way they operate, from remote jury trials to service by social media. Adversarial nations could exploit the unfamiliarity of what is permitted in this new normal to use robocalls to interfere with jury trials. This may be a simple as telling prospective jurors to stay home or, given the existence of virtual jury trials, directing people to a website where they will anticipate sitting in on such a trial only to have their information stolen.
While the courts cannot stop robocalls, they can take steps to protect the public. Paula Hannaford-Agor with NCSC's Center for Jury Studies indicated that public outreach and education are vital in fighting these scams. Ideally, these measures should be implemented proactively long before a scam is discovered. Courts should consider starting a social media presence if they haven't already done so. Through social media, they can distribute court information and dispel known court-related scams. NCSC has resources to help courts establish a social media policy to ensure the court is complying with ethics rules and considerations. At the 2019 National Association of Court Management annual conference presenters from the Conference of Court Public Information Officers also recommended writing informational pieces and providing them to the local media outlets.
For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.