JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. – A recent scam case ended in rare form when a Johnson County detective was able to recover nearly $10,000 and return it to the victim.
In December, Jim Blackwell thought he was making an online purchase from a woman in Oregon named Laura Anderson. Blackwell, who owns Hickory Hills Barbeque on SR 31 in Edinburgh, was hoping to buy a John Deer mini excavator at a quarter of the regular cost.
“The story was, the woman’s husband was killed by a drunk driver and just wanted it gone,” Blackwell said. “If it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.”
As part of the online deal, Blackwell wired nearly $10,000 for the excavator, expecting it to be delivered by a company called VSN Vehicle Deliveries.
“About a week later, I realized the machine wasn’t coming and I had been scammed,” Blackwell said. “Their webpage was immaculate. The VSN thing was very very well done.”
As it turned out, VSN Vehicle Deliveries doesn’t really exist. The address listed for the company belonged to an unrelated shipping business. And the excavator was actually located in northern Indiana, for sale by another unrelated company.
The photo in Laura Anderson’s ad was copied and pasted from the other company’s sale add.
Johnson County Sheriff’s Detective James Bryant took the case, admittedly skeptical about the prospect of recovering Blackwell’s money.
“These cases are tough to solve,” Bryant said. “In solvability, and recovery, I usually see zeros.”
But, some fortunate timing and diligent work combined for an unexpected result.
Bryant was able to track Blackwell’s money transfer to a Bank of America account in California, which had been opened under a different company name. Bryant found that account had already been frozen by Bank of America due to fraud concerns.
“They froze the money because they’d seen $70,000 move through the account in a period of days,” Bryant said.
Bryant found the account had originally been opened with $100. Over the course of a few days, $70,000 had been withdrawn from the account. When the account was frozen, it still had $9,950 in it. That was the exact amount Blackwell had wired for the excavator.
The freezing of the account gave Bryant time to work with the Johnson County Prosecutors office to get a court order and send it to Bank of America.
“It seized the money and it ordered them to return it to Tim Blackwell,” Bryant said.
Bryant says there probably never was a Laura Anderson. Rather, it was more likely an organized group of criminals, who may already be looking for their next victim. He says people should always be wary of cheap online deals that can’t be found anywhere else.
“Selling things for 25-cents on the dollar doesn’t keep the lights on,” Bryant said.
Blackwell says he’s done with online transactions and will only do business on a face-to-face basis from now on. He also says he’s very thankful Detective Bryant worked on his case.
“Didn’t expect anything back and the fact that he went the extra mile and did the things he had to do to make it happen, is pretty amazing,” Blackwell said. “Appreciate it a lot.”