By Tiffany Stockton, News9.com
OKLAHOMA CITY -- NEWS 9 Consumer Watch's Amanda Taylor helped federal investigators expose an alleged scam costing Oklahomans thousands of dollars. Now federal prosecutors have asked Amanda to help put three defendants behind bars.
In December Amanda went undercover after a viewer said she lost hundreds of dollars to a man on Craigslist who she thought would help her pay off her utility bill. The Craigslist post claimed to have the "funds to help pay your utility bills" for a fee of half of what is owed.
The defendants were known to tell their victims to not pay the fee until after their bill had been paid. When the victim was able to call their utility company and get a confirmation number, they would pay the defendants the fee. However, the defendants allegedly used a stolen or phony check or credit card number to pay off the victim's bill. Most utility company's automated system will give out a confirmation number, but it normally takes the system up to a week to realize a payment is bad.
When Amanda decided to pose as someone needing help paying off her utility bill, she got the same results as numerous other Oklahomans who fell victim to the scam.
"After we aired the story, we got several calls from people who recognized the scam," Amanda said.
But it wasn't just victims who gave notice. Shortly after the story aired, the FBI and Secret Service called the Consumer Watch Team to say they had been investigating Wallace Lawrence III and they were hot on his trail.
"They were watching him, but they didn't realize how widespread (the scam) was," Amanda said.
Within a week after the story first aired on NEWS 9, the Secret Service arrested Lawrence and two accomplices for running the Craigslist utility bill scam. Federal prosecutors call Lawrence the ringleader of the scam and have asked Amanda to testify about how Lawrence and his accomplices were able to con innocent Oklahomans out of their hard-earned cash.
"I am testifying about the way the scam works," Amanda said. "We had tape recorded conversations with the scammer."
The trial is set to begin Monday morning. Along with Amanda, several other witnesses and victims are set to testify against Lawrence and his accomplices, Carri Adams and Sandra Acuna.
Acuna is accused of helping steal credit card and checking account numbers from patients while working at a metro doctor's office. The stolen information was allegedly used to pay off the victim's bill. She has already entered a guilty plea for her role in the scam.
Adams is accused of using her office computer to post the utility bill scam on Craigslist.
This case is expected to last all week.