As I stepped from an exam room one recent busy morning, my office manager pulled me aside. “Someone from the county courthouse is on the phone and needs to talk to you,” she whispered.

“You know better than that,” I said. “While I’m seeing patients, I don’t take calls from anyone except colleagues and immediate family.”

“He says he has a warrant for your arrest.”

I took the call.

“You failed to appear for jury duty,” the official-sounding voice said. “That’s a violation of state law, as you were warned when you received your summons. You’ll have to come down here and surrender yourself immediately, or else we’ll have to send deputies to your office. I don’t think you’ll want to be led through your waiting room in handcuffs.”

“Wait a minute,” I replied nervously. “I haven’t received a jury summons for 2 years, at least. There must be some mistake.”

“Perhaps we’ve confused you with a citizen with the same or a similar name,” he said. “Let me have your Social Security number and birth date.”

Alarm bells! “You should have that information already,” I replied. “Why don’t you read me what you have?”

A short silence, and then … click.

I immediately called the courthouse. “Citizens who fail to appear receive a warning letter and a new questionnaire, not a phone call,” said the jury manager. “And we use driver license numbers to keep track of jurors.”

The phone company traced the call, which dead-ended at a VoIP circuit, to no one’s surprise. The downside of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and similar technologies is that unscrupulous individuals can use them to appear to be calling you from a legitimate business when they are not.

Like most other supposedly affluent professionals, doctors have always been popular targets for scam artists and con men. Those of us of a certain age remember phony office calls offering great deals on supplies or waiting room magazine subscriptions. Those capers eventually disappeared; but scam artists are endlessly creative. This is especially true since the Internet took over, well, everything. There’s a real dark side to the information age.

The jury duty scheme, I learned, is an increasingly popular one. Others involve calls or e-mails from the “fraud department” of your bank, claiming to be investigating a breach of your account, or one of your credit or debit cards. Another purports to be a “Customs official” informing you that you owe a big duty payment on an overseas shipment. Victims of power outages due to natural disasters are hearing from crooks claiming to be from the local power company; the power won’t be restored, they say, without an advance payment.

In most cases, the common denominator – and the biggest red flag – is a request for a social security number, a birth date, a credit card number, or other private information that could be used to steal your identity or empty your accounts.

You may think you would never be fooled by any of these schemes, but trust me: These guys are good. They sound very authentic – particularly when they surprise you in the midst of your office hours.

Here’s a summary of what my recent experience taught (or reminded) me:

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News. Write to him at dermnews@frontlinemedcom.com .

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