“My phone is going crazy,” said Jacki Hutcherson of Cathy's Florist in Lafayette on Wednesday, January 8. Only the day before, she'd found out that she had been scammed for just over $2,400 in roses and cash.
It all began on Saturday, January 4. Hutcherson got a call from a customer who said his name was Dr. Corey Smith. He wanted to send 24 red and five pink roses to a “Tonya Griffin” at a Lafayette address. He wanted a $20 bill attached to every rose, folded into a fan shape. He wanted the note to say “Happy anniversary. Hope we can stay together. Love always, Dr. Corey Smith.” He called back a few minutes later and wanted it changed to “love always, Goat.”
The total, including a large finance fee, was $913.43. He gave Hutcherson a card number, and said he was in the military, so it would have to be authorized. “We've had to do that before,” said Hutcherson. “We have people from Iraq call us for orders, and then their bank has to authorize it sometimes.”
His bank called Hutcherson a few minutes later, saying that they'd have to temporarily 'force' his maximum daily spending for this purchase. They walked her through the process of running the amount through her credit card machine. It went through without a problem.
So Hutcherson went to her bank and withdrew the cash from a business account, folded the bills up, attached them to the arrangement, and delivered it in Lafayette. She had the woman, “Tonya Griffin,” sign for the delivery because of the cash money.
“Monday,” said Hutcherson, “we were actually thinking of not coming to work because of the weather—and it was my birthday. What a nice birthday present, right? So that day, I got another call at the office, and she said her name was Dean Spense. She said her son had ordered an arrangement, and she wanted to do a similar one.”
The woman wanted 40 roses this time—half red, half pink—and $20 attached to each one, for a total of $800. And she wanted the note to say “Congratulations on your schooling! Love, Grandma and Pawpaw.” It was to be delivered to an “Ashley Griffin” at the same address as before.
“I told her 'wow, this is amazing. I wish God had blessed me with the ability to do this for people, and I would send them out every day,'” said Hutcherson. “And she called me 'sweetheart' and 'darling'. She was 'darling' me to death.”
Hutcherson choked up a little here. “I'm so emotional, I'm sorry,” she explained. “I'm thinking—this is amazing that somebody would do this for somebody. I love doing good for people, and that's my fulfillment every day. So I just couldn't believe it.”
When Hutcherson ran the card given, it was declined. So she called the woman back, and the woman told her she'd have the bank call. Less than five minutes later, a woman called who said she was “Maria Rodriguez with FIA Visa Banking.” She gave an 800 number, and walked Hutcherson through the process of 'forcing' the $1,500 charge through the credit card machine. It also showed that it had gone through.
One worrisome thing did happen that day: when she called the number in Lafayette, the woman named Tonya told her there was no Ashley Griffin at that address. She called the customers back and they seemed a little ruffled. The grandmotherly woman told her “I'm so sorry; I got confused. It's going to my daughter Tonya.” When Hutcherson asked whether the note should still say 'love Grandma and Pawpaw', the woman said that was fine.
And the son told her that “they were just trying to help a lady out; just deliver the flowers; she's there to receive them.”
Hutcherson delivered the flowers, after telling the man “I'm not trying to be rude, but if you can please get ya'lls personal issues worked out so I can get home.” The same woman signed for the flowers again.
“So I called my mom. I said 'you're never going to believe this, we got another order like on Saturday,'” said Hutcherson. “I talk to my mother every day. And she said 'you really need to check with your credit card place to make sure it's all legit.'”
Hutcherson called her credit card transaction company, and they confirmed both transactions.
The next day, though, the other shoe dropped. On Tuesday, Hutcherson, got a call from her company, saying that there was a problem with the account and they'd closed it. The charges that she'd received from the two transactions had been reversed. They told her it looked like she'd been the victim of an elaborate credit card scam.
Hutcherson found herself robbed of $1,280 cash, plus time and hundreds of dollars worth of flowers.
So she called numbers she'd used before for “Dr. Corey Smith” and his mother. The woman told her she was from North Carolina, on a business trip in Nashville, and currently walking into a police station because, they told her, she'd been the victim of identify theft. Hutcherson asked to speak to an officer there, immediately. A man came on the phone who was clearly the same voice as “Dr. Corey Smith.”
“He said 'This is Detective Little',” remembered Hutcherson. “and I said 'which department'? He said 'warrants department' and I said 'which precinct, and can you give me your badge number?' and he said 'don't call this number again' and hung up.”
She called the address in Lafayette and demanded the money from “Tonya Griffin,” whose real name, according to her ID later examined by the police, was Tonya Robinson. Robinson is a caretaker in Lafayette for a Ms. Dyer in Lafayette. She told police she moved to Lafayette because of a former boyfriend.
Robinson told Hutcherson that she “didn't want any trouble,” that she had met a man online and begun a relationship with him without ever meeting him in person. He had told her that he was in jail and in financial straits, and had a friend who was helping him out with some money. She siad that he was the one who had told her the flowers would be coming to her house, and to accept them and put the cash on a green card. She had done so, and then given him the card number on the green card.
Hutcherson called the Lafayette Police, and officer Henry Behr did a report on Tuesday. Later, Hutcherson and her husband went to the address in person and picked up Ms. Robinson, who came willingly. The three of them then went to the Lafayette Police Department and were questioned.
Here, Robinson said that she would give the money back, apparently not yet knowing that the Green card had been emptied. Police told Hutcherson that if the money was returned to her and she accepted it, she could then press no charges. They said that they believed Robinson was telling the truth and had been used by a third party of scammers.
Hutcherson is now seeking information and trying to work with police, saying “this is obviously a big deal, whoever these people are.”