Scam claiming loved one is in jail makes way around Central Texas again

It’s not a new type of scam, but it appears to be making the rounds again in Central Texas

Recent posts on social media have described similar scenarios. Many posts describe a caller telling them that their son or daughter caused a car crash and is in jail and money is needed to bail them out. Often, someone will pose as the crying loved one.

Many posts specifically mention a fake, public defender going by the name of "John Steinberg."

One local resident FOX 7 spoke to over the phone last month said her husband went to their South Austin bank and actually withdrew $20,000. However, they were able to reach their actual daughter on her phone at the last minute. 

She had been told by the scammer, a "John Steinberg," that her daughter was in jail and that she had hit another car and injured a pregnant woman. He put a person on the phone that sounded just like her.

"I still get kind of sick every time I think about it," she said.

One convincing aspect for her was that the caller ID came up as "Travis County Jail."

"If your loved one calls you from the Travis County Jail, you're not going to see Travis County Jail on the caller ID," said Kristen Dark, public information officer for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. "And when you get that call, you're going to hear a recording that's going to say, ‘You're accepting a call from an inmate at the Travis County Jail. Do you accept this call?’"

Dark says these kinds of scams ebb and flow.

"They tend to use our agency for a couple of months, and then when the heat is on and people are starting to realize what's happening, they switch to a different agency," said Dark. "So it’ll go cold for us for a while, and then I’ll start receiving notifications that it’s happening again."

If something feels even slightly off, try and reach the loved one on their phone or call another friend or family member. Another option is to call the local jail and double-check with them.

"It's really easy to find information about people these days and see how many kids they have or where they live or what town they're in," said Dark. "That's not hard information to get, and the scammers will take time to find that stuff out."

Another common scam involving the justice system is the "jury duty" scam. The caller may claim to be a sergeant or lieutenant with the sheriff's office and may even use a real name. 

They’ll claim the resident missed jury duty and must pay a fine to avoid being arrested. However, TCSO will never call residents regarding jury duty. TCSO will also never ask for payment via wire transfer, gift cards or MoneyPak.