Law enforcement warns of scam involving jail and bail bonds

HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. -- Law enforcement in Hancock County are warning about a new scam targeting people who have recently bonded out of jail.

Last week, an attorney in Greenfield sent a letter to the Hancock County Bar Association about the scam, which targeted one of his clients. The attorney said his client was arrested on an OWI charge and used a credit card to post bond at the Hancock County jail. Shortly after bonding out, the arrestee received a 5 a.m. phone call from someone claiming to be from the jail. The caller told the arrestee that the credit card payment for bond did not go through, and the person had been mistakenly released from jail.

The attorney said his client gave credit card information over the phone and even used Western Union to send some money. The attorney says the call was a scam, and his client had lost a “large amount of money.”

Bond for an OWI arrest in Hancock County typically amounts to $600, according to jail officials.

Hancock County authorities say it appears the scammer is using online court records to monitor new arrests and bookings at the jail in order to identify potential victims. In Indiana, online public court records are available on websites such as MyCase.

Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton says public records are important so citizens are aware of proceedings in the criminal justice system.

“We want to be transparent,” Eaton said. “Just like all the other prosecutors’ offices in Indiana, we want to be transparent. We want people to know what we’re doing.”

The fact that somebody is using public records to exploit potential victims for a scam is “disturbing,” Eaton said.

Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shephard says people can avoid this scam by being aware of how his jail operates in the case of a mistaken release. First, Shephard said, if a person’s credit card payment doesn’t clear, staff members at the jail will know right away. So, a mistaken release should not happen in that circumstance.

If there is a payment error or mistaken release, Shephard says the jail may contact someone and ask them to return to jail to avoid having a new arrest warrant issued.  But, the jail staff will never ask for payment information over the phone.

“I can see us trying to call them and just say come back in, we need you to swipe your credit card again,” Shephard said. “We’re not going to ask for their information over the phone.”

Shephard says if you get a call from “the jail” about a payment or release mistake, you should hang up and call the jail back to find out if the claim is legitimate. You can also call the attorney representing you if you have a question about bond.

If you believe you’ve been contacted by a scammer, Eaton says that’s the time to get police involved for investigation.

“If there is a situation where something like this occurs, or you’re aware of it, what we would certainly encourage people to do is contact their local law enforcement agency to make a report,” Eaton said.

Eaton and Shephard said this is the first instance of this particular scam that they are aware of. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened at other times or in other counties.

“If somebody here could figure out how to do that, it seems very possible that someone else somewhere else could figure out the same thing,” Eaton said.

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