Sheriff: Couple defrauds several in travel scam

Published: May. 29, 2014 at 2:54 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2014 at 9:13 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A couple is charged with forgery and financial conspiracy after sheriff's investigators said they defrauded people in Richland County.

Angelique Merrell, 34, and William Ferrell, 47, set up shop at a hotel on Two Notch Road where they targeted prospective vacationers taking their hard-earned money.

"We like to travel, you know, so we thought it'd be something we like," said Judy Durham.

So imagine Durham's surprise when she got a postcard in the mail promising two tickets on Southwest Airlines to anywhere.

And all Judy and Joseph Durham needed to do was attend a sales pitch at a hotel on Two Notch Road in Richland County.

"And they took us inside and gave us this wonderful presentation and told us how we could join this vacation club and get great deals on flights and vacations," Judy said.

Including a bonus trip to Australia.

Judy said the travel agents told her the $9,000 vacation would only cost about $2,900 and there would even be a bigger discount if she paid by check, so she didn't hesitate.

"So, we wrote the check out, and they said, 'Well, we have a stamp. We'll just put the stamp in the pay to,' which was our big mistake," Judy said.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department said Judy and Joseph Durham were scammed.

In fact, investigators said the two travel agents were duped too.

The Sheriff's Department said they thought they were working for a legitimate company when really they were working for two crooks, Angelique Merrell and Bill Ferrell.

After lots of investigative work in Richland County, the two were arrested in Maryland, outside Washington D.C.

"Of course, from South Carolina to Maryland, who knows if they made pit-stops setting up scams as well," said Sgt. Curtis Wilson with the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

Judy said she doesn't know if she'll get her money back or ever visit Peru.

But she does know she'll be at both Ferrell and Merrell's bond hearings.

"I'll tell them they're lairs and thieves," Judy said.

Durham said at least 12 other people showed up for the sales pitch at the hotel.

Authorities say you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of this scam or others by double checking, even triple checking with the sheriff's department or the Better Business Bureau.

Wilson said never feel pressured to give up your hard earned cash.

Merrell and Ferrell are currently awaiting extradition back to South Carolina.

If you or someone you know may have been victimized in this case, call 1-888-CRIME-SC.

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