“The Hoax” – Many Telephone Con Artists Are Untouchable

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HARTSELLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Sheriffs investigators in Morgan County tell us they're seeing a huge increase in the number of telephone scams perpetrated on people. The scams range from callers saying you've won a big prize to someone posing as a law enforcement officer asking for bail money for one of your children or grandchildren. Most people don't fall for the hoax, but the ones who do make it a profitable enterprise for these telephone thieves. WHNT News 19's Al Whitaker met one such scam victim recently and while he was shooting the interview, the thieves called back asking for more. We're taking action to help end the calls this one couple keeps receiving, but there's useful information here everyone should know.

Jeremy and Bobbie Smallwood say at first the callers didn't ask for money, they told them they had won a huge cash prize and a car.  But after the third or fourth call, they wanted them to send money.

"They started out asking us for the taxes on the money, the taxes on the car, the storage for the car and shipping and handling fees," Jeremy explained.

It wasn't easy on their fixed income but over the course of about 90 days the Smallwoods managed to send the con-artists roughly $3,500.  When Jeremy finally told them he didn't have any more to send, they said they could help him.

"Well, they said they would send me money for me to pay for the prize.  I was getting mail out of the Hartselle Post Office and they was sending me checks to cash to send to them and come to find out the checks bounced," Jeremy told us.

"These people that do this are experts.  They're con men. That’s what they do for a living and they've found a way to do it where they really can't be touched legally at least by anybody in the United States because they're operating from outside the country."

The calls to the Smallwoods originated from Kingston, Jamaica.

While we were shooting our interview with the Smallwoods, the thieves called wanting even more money. The caller identified herself as Mrs. James Brown.  Here's the exchange:

Al Whitaker: "Mrs. Brown, my name is Al.  And, we're recording your conversation. Tell me about your conscience, Mrs. Brown."

Caller: "Who are you?"

Al Whitaker: "What kind of a conscience do you have scamming poor people like this?"

She hung up at that point but a few minutes later, another call.  Same number, different voice. Here's that exchange:

Caller: "Do you remember how much money you have won, along with your car?"

Jeremy: "No ma'am."

Caller: "Oh my God! Your $2.5 million dollars along with your beautiful new Mercedes-Benz."

Al Whitaker: "Can you hear me? Do you understand English?"

Caller: "Yeah."

Al Whitaker: "You're a thief."

Caller: "Beg your pardon?"

Al Whitaker: "You are a thief. You are the worst kind of thief. You are scum. You are stealing from these people."

Caller: "Well, why are you saying that, sir?"

Jeremy: "Because you've been asking for money from day one.  Since November."

Al Whitaker: "Where are you? Where are you?"

Caller: "Beg your pardon?"

Al Whitaker: "Where are you? Look around, what country are you in?"

Caller: "I'm not in any country."

Al Whitaker: "You're not in any country? You're a thief."

Caller: "I'm in the United States."

Al Whitaker: "No, you're not. You're a liar, too. You're a liar."

"But they get the phone call and they do it.  And, it's money out of their pockets that they'll never see again.  There's nothing we can do about it," Lt. Kelly said after hearing of the scam.

"I don't see how they can sit back and do people the way they do, take advantage of people, especially us poor folks. And it hurts.  It hurts bad," Jeremy confided.

It cannot be said often enough. No legitimate company is going to call you on the telephone, out of the blue, and start asking for your personal information or ask you to send them money.  And if someone calls and says you've won a big prize but somewhere in the conversation they say you need to send us a little something, you should automatically know it is a scam, you are talking to a thief.  Hang up the phone. Just hang up the phone.  Don't be a victim.

Jeremy Smallwood had to change his home telephone number but they still call his cell. They haven't asked for more money yet, they just talk and offer explanations. Lt. Kelly says they're trying to re-set the hook in an effort to exploit even more from him. Kelly says if you even answer the phone when these scammers call, your number automatically goes on a list that they will call again from time to time.  He strongly suggests using your Caller ID.  He says if you get a call from an unfamiliar number, especially if the caller's area code is 876 (Kingston, Jamaica), just don't answer.  Let the caller leave a message.

From the reporter's notebook:

We spoke to a person in the U.S. State Department who asked not to be identified in this story.  She told us this is an old problem and big business in Jamaica and that the local authorities there would do nothing to shut it down. U.S. law enforcement agencies have no jurisdiction to investigate or make arrests in scams that originate there.

We also spoke to an FBI spokesperson who told us this scam is not new and that, "The subjects continue to develop new methods to further their fraudulent scheme." He said they'll send a taxi to a victim's home offering to take them to a Western Union office to wire money.  He said some have been known to call local police to go to a potential victim's house on a "welfare check" but the move is intended to intimidate the potential victim.

When I first met the Smallwoods, they were on their way home after buying a Western Union Moneygram for $50. They saw me parked in front of Hartselle City Hall and stopped to ask if there was anything WHNT News 19 could do to help them recover the money they had lost. After Jeremy told me what had happened and how, I had to tell him there was nothing anyone could do to recover that money.  I informed him that he had been scammed. He thought for a moment and then asked if I would tell his story in an effort to keep others from falling victim to this type of hoax and I agreed.  When he drove away, he and Bobbie went back to the store where they had purchased the Moneygram and got their $50 back.  However, they had already called the thieves and given them the order number to claim the money. The next day, while I was at their home to shoot the interview, these thieves called to tell him to go back to the Western Union office and resend the cash. I asked Jeremy to put the first caller on speakerphone so I could record it.

Jeremy told me over the past few months, he and Bobbie had talked to a number of people involved in the hoax. One said he was with the U.S. Treasury Department.  Others, including the second woman who called the Smallwoods the day I was there, said they represented a popular and well known sweepstakes.  Bobbie and Jeremy have been playing contests and entering sweepstakes for years.  So when the initial calls came in, they wanted to believe it was true.

The FBI tells us if you have to pay to collect your winnings, you're not winning. It's a scam! Legitimate sweepstakes don't require you to pay insurance, taxes or shipping and handling fees to collect your prize.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a telephone or internet scam, the FBI urges you to report it to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, or "IC3" at www.ic3.gov. Here's another FBI supported site that provides excellent information: LOOKS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.


  • Christopher

    If you have to send them money, then you have won nothing! Apparently, these people do not listen to the representative who frequently appears on Channel 19 from the BBB who keeps saying over and over not to fall for such scams… This is a huge mistake for which they will suffer the consequences of it.

  • Just Me :)

    If you are so poor then why send what little money you have, if you wanted to be on T.V. then you should have tried out for American Idol, at least we expect crazy, stupid stuff on the audition show. This was a huge waste of news time and an even bigger waste is you collecting a check off my tax dollars to waste on a scam…….

  • Steve

    These people were ALREADY out alot of money, but were still trying to send in $50 more, even after calling the media to hear their story? Geez……. do they belive anything. Mr. Smallwood, if you send me $1000…..I will call those scammers and tell them how mean they were to you and maybe get your money back (not really, I’m scamming you)

  • Peter

    If it sounds too good to be true.. it is. I cant believe these people fell for this age old scam. I dont think they will get any pity for their mistake.

    • Dan

      BOB you must be referring to the comment that was posted earlier about this man having a child that he does not care for ? So he gets a monthly check and then blows it on scams instead of providing for his child. Don’t worry…some of us caught it in time to see it. There is a special place for people this sorry. I dont feel bad for him at all, regardless as to whether he has a child or not. If he kept sending the money on multiple occasions then he got what he deserved. It’s sad that the child has to do without because he wants to be lazy and greedy.

  • Dan

    BOB you must be referring to the comment that was posted earlier about this man having a child that he doesn’t even care for? Don’t worry… some of us caught it in time to see it before they removed the comment. There is a special place for people this sorry. I don’t feel for him regardless as to whether he has a child or not. If you are really that broke and continue to send these scammers money on multiple occasions after receiving nothing in return then that is your fault !! It’s sad to know that he has money to blow on this crap instead of providing for his child.

  • Morgan

    The only reason this scam company is still in business is because they ARE getting LOTS of money. This appears to be a son living with his mother on a fixed income, rather is be SS or disability…. bless their hearts… he does not appear to be the brightest crayon in the box. Sadly, people get taken advantage of everyday, and if you are not smarter you will GET GOT.

  • Ron

    Where in the he’ll did he come up with $3500.00 if he’s on a fixed income. That seems fishy to me.

  • Sissy McCloud

    you want people to feel sorry for you and thats not going to happen .. ya’ll got what ya’ll deserved .. you have a son that is 19 yrs old now and never got any birthday cards or christmas gifts from you but you want people to feel sorry for you .. NOT.. in my book I feel sorry for our son that had to grow up with out his dad cause you let someone tell you not to contact him at all. that money you sent to the other people could have been sent to you son … I don’t feel sorry for you or her at all .. I feel sorry for our son …

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