Couple Running Vacation Fraud Scam Arrested and Charged
Two people have been arrested and charged with forgery and financial conspiracy after the Richland County Sheriff’s Department arrested them for running a vacation fraud scam.
The two suspects – Angelique Merrell, 34, and William Ferrell, 47 – allegedly set up at a hotel on Two Notch Road and targeted prospective vacationers with their fraudulent vacation package deals.
One of the couple’s victims, Judy Durham, said, “We like to travel, you know, so we thought it’d be something we like.”
Judy and her husband, Joseph, received a postcard in the mail promising two tickets on Southwest Airlines to anywhere – all they had to do was attend a sales pitch at the Two Notch Road hotel.
“And they took us inside and gave us this wonderful presentation and told us how we could join this vacation club and get great deals on flights and vacations,” Judy said.
That included a bonus trip to Australia.
The vacation fraud scam promised the Durhams they would pay only $2,900 for a package that would normally cost around $9,000. The scammers also promised that the couple would receive a bigger discount if they paid by check.
“So, we wrote the check out, and they said, ‘Well, we have a stamp. We’ll just put the stamp in the pay to,’ which was our big mistake,” Judy said.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department stated that the two travel agents involved in the vacation fraud scam were duped, as well. They believed they were working for a legitimate company, but instead Merrell and Ferrell duped everyone involved.
The vacation fraud scammers were arrested outside of Washington, DC.
“Of course, from South Carolina to Maryland, who knows if they made pit-stops setting up scams as well,” said Sgt. Curtis Wilson with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
Judy Durham said that at least 12 people showed up for the sales pitch at the Two Notch Road hotel, so there may be many other victims of the vacation fraud scam across the country.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department reiterated that vacation fraud scams happen all the time. To protect yourself, double or triple-check the company’s legitimacy with local law enforcement and business agencies, as well as the Better Business Bureau. Losses from each victim can range $3,000 to $5,000, but you should never feel pressured to give up your money when talking to a sales agent, regardless of what kind of deal you are talking about.
The AARP website offers a good guide to avoiding vacation fraud, time share scams, or rental fraud. Be sure to do thorough research on the vacation property itself – look it up on Google, visit the property in person, never rely solely on email correspondence. Most importantly, never pay with a wire transfer or prepaid debit card – use a credit card (not your debit card, which can lead to identity theft!), or PayPal, as those services offer the best recourse to recover your money and track the vacation fraudsters.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help Victims of Vacation Fraud and Timeshare Scams
Based in Columbia, SC, the attorneys at the Strom Law Firm have a thorough understanding of both state and federal criminal law. We have prosecuted criminals involved in social security fraud, identity theft, illegal gambling, and other crimes. If you lost money to a vacation fraud or timeshare fraud scheme, you do not have to suffer in silence. Contact the Strom Law Firm today for a free consultation. 803.252.4800