Elderly Hawkins widow scammed out of $58,000

Jeff Bobo • Jul 23, 2019 at 2:59 PM

MOUNT CARMEL — Telephone and internet scam victims are usually motivated either by greed or fear, but police say an elderly Mount Carmel widow who was taken for more than $58,000 earlier this month was motivated by both.

Mount Carmel Police Department Chief Ken Lunsford Jr. said the 78-year-old woman sent $58,710 to a Publishers Clearing House scam after being told she had won $3 million and a new Mercedes valued at $75,000.

When she ran out of money the scammer reportedly began threatening to have her murdered. That's when the victim, who is her church’s secretary, tried to draw $7,500 from her church's credit card.

The transaction was stopped by an Eastman Credit Union clerk at the Mount Carmel branch who contacted other church members. The MCPD was subsequently notified.

The victim told Lunsford she received a call on June 28 from a man with a thick foreign accent calling himself Joe Johnson who claimed to be from the Publishers Clearing House.

“Johnson” told her she had won $3 million and a $75,000 Mercedes, but she had to pay taxes on the prizes and the shipping fee on the car.

On June 29, she sent him three different payments of $4,400, $4,400 and $1,500.

On July 2, she sent him five payments of $29, $40 and then three separate payments of $7,500 each.

On July 8, she sent him payments of $40 and $1,500 and $7,500.

On July 9, she sent him payments of $32, two for $7,500, $1,700, $29 and $40.

“Some of it she mailed in cash, and at one point she sent an Amazon gift card,” Lunsford told the Times News on Monday. “She got cashier's checks. She literally sent it every kind of fashion and denomination you could. It was mailed to multiple locations all over the country. Finally at the end when she told them she didn't have any more money, that's when the death threats started, and she got scared and tried to take money from the church's credit card to save her life.”

Johnson reportedly told the victim he would send someone to murder her if she didn't continue to paying.

“All of her money is gone,” Lunsford said. “I would say that was probably her life savings.”

Even after the death threats and having lost all that money, the victim still found it hard to believe she was being scammed.

“Apparently they (the victim and Johnson) talked every day,” Lunsford said. “They talked like two or three times per day. She thought she knew this person — he's married and has kids. When she realized she'd been scammed, I think she was literally in shock. I could hear when I left my office to go make a copy or something, she would start to cry. When I came back she would toughen up like nothing was wrong, but she was just in utter shock.”

The church isn't expected to press charges against the woman.

Lunsford added, “We literally see a story about this same type of scam in the newspaper every week, and still they continue to do it. I don't know if the salesmen are just that good. It's always either greed or fear that gets them. It was both this time, and it's unfortunate.”