|Customers rally in support of scammed Christian store|
|Written by Eric Tiansay|
|Friday, 16 January 2009 11:05 AM America/New_York|
Retailer ‘humbled’ by $10,000 donation given to offset funds lost to Nigerian fraud ring
Residents of a North Carolina community have rallied around a Christian bookstore that was the victim of a Nigerian e-mail scam.
“People coming in giving us money without buying merchandise is humbling,” Lucy Morell, co-owner of Lighthouse Christian Bookstore in Jacksonville, N.C., told Christian Retailing. “I’ve been speechless, and I’m a talker.”
The Morells lost more than $10,000 in the bogus order after the couple received an e-mail in December 2007 from a man who claimed to be a pastor in Nigeria requesting help with Bibles.
Christian retailers have been targeted by Nigerian Bible scams in recent years, and CBA addressed the issue with a workshop on loss prevention during the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in 2006.
“We did research and checked online,” Morell said. “There was a church and the pastor e-mailed a phone number. We spoke on the phone. It sounded and looked legitimate. We trusted that this man was a pastor. We had the opportunity to be able to help in another country. We didn’t even look at it that it was Nigeria with all of the scams there.”
She said the pastor ordered 200 Bibles, providing a credit card number. Morell said the order was placed and shipped after the charge cleared. The pastor ordered an additional 200 Bibles three weeks after the first order was shipped—with the two orders costing more than $10,000, Morell said.
A short time later, the Morells checked with their bank, discovering that their account had a negative balance as $8,000 had been removed to cover the fraudulent charges. Altogether the couple, who bought the store in 2005, was forced to pay back almost $11,000.
“Business has been slow to begin with as it was because of the economy and high gas prices,” Morell said. “For our money to be taken out of our account, it was a shock.”
Around the same time, Morell’s husband, Eli, contacted the local newspaper about their plight at the urging of the former owner of Lighthouse.
“I had righteous indignation show up,” Heir-Williams told Christian Retailing. “I just really thought that it would be horrible to drive 45 minutes to go to another Christian bookstore.”
Since the challenge went public Aug. 31, nearly $10,000 has been donated to the bookstore, Morell said. “We are amazed at how God is still touching the hearts of His people,” she said.
Melissa Mitchell, director of loss prevention for LifeWay Christian Stores, told Christian Retailing that the Christian retail channel does not have a system in place to report Nigerian scams.
“We only get anecdotal information,” she said. “Also, victims of this type of fraud often feel as though they are somehow to blame and do not report it. … The National Retail Federation is working to help in passing legislation that addresses this and other types of organized crime.”
CBA President Bill Anderson told Christian Retailing that it was inspiring to hear that the Morells’ customers wanted to make sure they stayed in business.
“We are currently developing a workshop for (this) summer’s (ICRS) on loss prevention, which will cover this kind of fraud as well as shoplifting, employee theft and other types of loss,” Anderson added.