"To whom do lions cast their gentle looks?
Not to the beast that would usurp their den.
The smallest worm will turn being trodden on,
And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood.'"
William Shakespeare: Henry VI, Part 3
At first, the callers are hesitant. "Hello, my name is . . ." "I’m a chef in the Midwest, and I sell gourmet products online . . ." "I’m with a skin care products firm in San Francisco . . ." "We broker handcrafted jewelry to catalog buyers . . ."
After a stumbling start, they race to the finish. "We almost made a huge mistake."
Through their calls and emails, I learned that even sophisticated firms can be targeted by this shipping scam. "We frequently send wine overseas in containers," reported one winery. "Although the email seemed a little odd, it was the price of shipping that alerted us, as we get much lower rates. While researching the shipping company online we came across your articles. Our customer was ‘John Nelson’."
Another caller explained that they ship products overseas to catalog buyers. "They are usually English speaking, but often dictate personal correspondence to a native-tongue assistant. Sometimes the emails we receive have very quirky English, so when I received the ‘birthday’ request, I thought it was odd enough to investigate, but I would have filled the order had I not been warned. Thank you!"
And as they say, the worm turns . . .
Maria Bruhns at Kirigin Cellars emailed to report: "I did some Googling and got nowhere, until Betaway emailed me where to send the $3300…to an Ashley Lowe, at, you guessed it, 315 N. Main St, Aline. I googled the address…got a café! Called the café, disconnected. Next search result gave real estate offices…it’s abandoned!"
And now the prey become the hunter . . .
And now the prey become the hunter . . .
Not having a lot of faith in the Oklahoma City FBI agent who didn’t know his own email address, I decided to contact the local talent. Aline, OK is under the jurisdiction of the Alfalfa County Sheriff Department. At this point it’s clear that Jeanette aka Ashley might be operating under at least one false name and an address front. She could actually live anywhere in the US, and be using a fake driver license or state ID with the Aline address. But as we learned in Part IV, the instructions are to send the money via Western Union to Jeanette Springer in Aline, Oklahoma, and I suspect most businesses would select a W.U. office close to Aline. And there is Trent Springer’s statement that she "lives across town."
I dragged my heels about calling the local law enforcement. In fact, I procrastinated for about a week. After my brief interaction with the FBI, I wasn’t sure how to explain that I was reporting a crime, when no crime had been committed. To me. But to someone else. Whose name I didn’t have. I rehearsed several conversations in my head, and they all ended up with me sounding like an idiot.
With some trepidation, I called the Alfalfa Co. Sheriff Dept. I was greeted warmly by Mary. She didn’t blink an eye when I explained my mission, and connected me cheerfully and directly to Under Sheriff Dennis Frisk. Under Sheriff Frisk was as open and forthcoming as a prairie wind. I quickly laid out my fast-paced litany of names and bad behavior (in fear of being dismissed again as a lunatic in search of a TV reality theme) but Frisk calmly cut me off when I got to Ashley Lowe. "That’s her daughter," he said.
"I, uh . . . what?" I stuttered. "You know this woman?"
"Yes," he replied. "A couple of wineries from California have complained about this individual and cited this address." The Alfalfa County Sheriff Department contacted their local FBI representative and are awaiting subpoenas for both Jeanette Springer and Ashley Lowe. According to Frisk, their bank accounts will be accessed, and "we will be questioning these individuals." Frisk has been calling the FBI office daily to follow up.
I thanked him warmly and enthusiastically for taking the complaints seriously and for looking into the matter. He seemed gently amused by my reaction. Just another calm and capable day in the Alfalfa County Sheriff Department.
Which wineries reported Jeanette Springer? Maria at Kirigin Cellars had forwarded this series on to all the wineries in the Santa Clara AVA, and a reader forwarded the series to the entire Walla Walla winery association. Someone clearly cared enough to play the game, get Jeanette’s information, and step forward to law enforcement.
Although the Secret Service is ostensibly in charge of handling internet fraud, as you can see from their internet site, they are not easily accessible to individuals. As we’ve learned from following this case, law enforcement at the winery end of the fraud is less likely to interested—probably because the research-to-reward ratio is low. One’s best bet is to identify the money front man and report them to local law enforcement in their area. The research-to-reward ratio for law enforcement is a lot higher when a caller provides the name, address and activities of a felon.
In the meantime, I have sent emails to Under Sheriff Frisk and to Mr. Gupta in Nigeria . . .
Who are the wineries that reported Jeanette Springer?
Will Under Sheriff Frisk be able to identify the Nigerian receivers?
Is Jeanette Springer a willing accomplice or a victim?
Will Nigerian officials make an arrest from this information?
Thank you for reading Inside a Wine Scam, and thank you to everyone who has emailed or called with your news and comments. Please feel free to contact me at any time.