Mom and daughter on trip overseas get caught up in elaborate Nigerian scam
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) -- It started as a mother and daughter business trip. It ended a week later behind bars in South Korea.
Andrea Combs, of Carthage, Mo., still can't believe her mother Osa Martin and sister Tiffany Sourjohn have been unable to come home since August.
"She just turned 68 and hasn't even had a speeding ticket in her entire life," Combs said.
But now her mother and sister have been convicted of fraud. Combs said it's all a horrible mistake. The two, who are hair stylists near Carthage, weren't defrauding anyone knowingly. She said they are victims of what turned out to be an elaborate Nigerian scam.
It all started a year ago. That's when Osa Martin received her first email from a man at a company she had never heard of wanting to offer her a job as an international courier for an American bank. The job was to hand-deliver business contracts all over the world.
"Basically she would take this paper over there and watch it being signed," Combs said. "She didn't know the details of what they were signing for."
Martin traveled to Dubai, Greece, Turkey (about one trip a month) delivering the documents in exchange for a $5,000 fee and all expenses paid. Her daughter Tiffany started joining her six months ago out of concern for her mom traveling abroad alone.
"She was always under the impression she was working for Barbara Duck out of BB&T Bank," Combs said.
That's the name of a real bank and a real employee at that bank, but South Korean prosecutors said that's not who the women were working for. The real masterminds behind the scam are believed to be in Nigeria.
The women were being used as pawns in a con. The people they were delivering contracts to had been told they'd inherited $10 million. But, like most scams, before they could receive any money they had to pay tens of thousands of dollars for supposed fees and taxes.
The South Korean man Tiffany and her mom delivered their last contract to is believed to have paid about $93,000 to the Nigerian scammers, according to the indictment.
"Yes, it's very embarrassing that I got used to do somebody's dirty work," said Tiffany, who we were able to speak to at her attorney's house in South Korea where she and her mom are living after spending four months in prison.
They are waiting for their fraud conviction to be appealed. A South Korean judge ruled in January that the women could return to Missouri, but a prosecutor filed an appeal and is requesting they spend six years in prison. The women will be back in court this month to learn their fate. They've already spent more than $15,000 on attorney fees.
"I miss my kids and my grandbabies," said an emotional Tiffany.
The two weren't the only ones caught up in the scam. A 79-year-old Virginia man also was arrested and convicted in South Korea. But he has been released and is back home. There's also a California woman in jail in Mongolia who was trapped in the same scam. Tiffany believes there may be as many as 50 more Americans unknowingly working for the scammers. That's why the family wanted to share their story with Fox 4 - worried that others will fall victim.
"So if this will save anybody from being in this situation, I hope it stops them so they don't get in any type of trouble," said Tiffany.