Scammers target former inmates

HANCOCK COUNTY — Hancock County officials are warning of a telephone scam in which unknown callers seem to be using online court records to swindle money from local residents.

A former inmate at the Hancock County Jail alerted authorities to the problem. The man reportedly got a call from a scammer late last week who claimed there was an issue with his bond that needed correcting, officials said.

The caller identified themselves as a jail officer and rattled off specifics from the man’s pending criminal case. The caller then demanded the man give his credit card information over the phone to correct an error with the bail he posted, warning that a warrant would be issued for arrest if the mistake wasn’t corrected quickly, officials said.

The man complied with the scammer’s request, gave his personal information and wired the caller money. He’s out several hundred dollars, officials said, and authorities are warning others not to fall victim to the same con.

Public court records, tracking everything from pending divorces and old traffic tickets to open criminal cases, are easily accessible online; phone numbers and addresses are sometimes included, and anyone whose information is listed could be targeted, officials said.

Signs have now been posted around the lobby of the Hancock County Jail, reminding offenders and their families that officers there will not ask them for credit card information over the phone, said Capt. Andy Craig, the commander of the local jail.

Once an inmate has been released, jail officers rarely reach out to them, Craig said.

If there is an issue, the officer asks the person to come back to the jail – which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including all holidays – to correct the issue in person, Craig said.

Jail officers are told to never take an inmate’s credit card information over the phone, he said.

Any other contact about their criminal case will come from their attorney or the court directly, Craig said.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton said local law enforcement was first informed of the scam by a public defender, who reported his client had fallen victim.

Because the scammer knew details about the man’s pending case — specifically the charges he faced, the date he posted bail and the amount of bail posted, Eaton said – it appears the scammer was using online court records to monitor new arrests and bookings at the jail in order to identify potential victims.

Emails have now been sent to all members of the Hancock County Bar Association, urging members to inform their clients of the scam. Notes have also been sent to every prosecuting attorney in the state, Eaton said.

Anyone who believes they’ve fallen victim to the scam should contact their local law enforcement agency.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.