Summerville ticket scammer caught years after first report
Despite their frequency, online fraud cases pose many challenges to local law enforcement
SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - It took years before police caught an online ticket scammer accused of selling fake tickets to unsuspecting Clemson Football fans.
Abbryanna Dutill McGowan, of Summerville, pleaded guilty last month to obtaining property under false pretenses after David Cote, of Mount Pleasant, reported that she had “swindled” him for $600 when he attempted to purchase tickets from her in 2021.
“I think she’s got a lot more coming to her,” he said following the court hearing in September.
A judge ordered she spend 15 days in jail and pay Cote restitution and fines.
But others have told police that he’s not alone.
“I got blocked on Facebook and I knew I had been scammed,” Danielle Smith said.
At least 10 police reports filed in the last two years point to the same person responsible for a ticket scam, under nearly identical circumstances, all in different police jurisdictions across South Carolina and in other states like North Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Ohio.
“I was so mad,” Stephanie Adams said. “I looked her up on Instagram. I looked her up on Facebook. She went to Clemson. She was in Tiger Band. She seemed legit.”
“How is this allowed to continue? It’s like feeling that you’re in a soundproof room screaming for help and no one hears you,” Sue Hensch said.
Hensch was a would-be buyer two years ago but never ended up sending McGowan any money.
“I still feel victimized,” she said.
Many banded together on Facebook after believing they had been taken advantage of, including Hensch. But the road to accountability was frustrating for some.
More than $5,000 was sent to McGowan and her husband, Chris, by people who say they never got their tickets, according to police reports.
More than once, people were asked to send money to a friend or third party that was not aware the tickets would never come through. In some cases, the money was returned by that uninvolved party out of their own pocket.
Some believe that the amount taken is much higher.
“What’s concerning to me is the fact that there are so many people that this has happened to yet because they’re not all linked in the same jurisdiction... It’s gone somewhere in the abyss,” Hensch said.
Investigators obtained McGowan’s Venmo transactions and Facebook messages and determined she was “swindling multiple individuals out of money from fake Clemson tickets” on Oct. 12, 2021, according to a Mount Pleasant police report.
A warrant was issued for her arrest, but when the investigator could not get in touch with McGowan via phone or Cote, it appears the case went quiet.
The warrant was put into the National Crime Informational Center, a federal database for police departments nationwide.
The warrant was not served initially because it was believed that McGowan was “transient” and difficult to locate, Sgt. Ashley Croy, a representative for Mount Pleasant police, said.
The department usually has one officer dedicated to warrant service, and the severity of the crime is taken into account and more violent crimes are prioritized.
McGowan never had contact with the police in the two years between her warrant being issued and her arrest, to the department’s knowledge.
The department also did not have knowledge of other victims coming forward after the initial report was filed.
Four other agencies, including the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, the Aberdeen Police Department, the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office and the Greenville police department, have all placed holds on McGowan since her arrest.
For some, their day in court like Cote will never come.
In Adams’ case, the statute of limitations in her home state of Virginia has expired.
“The police could have done and should have done more in these cases,” Adams said. “I understand that that’s the law [and it] has to be abided by all parties. But I think that this could have gone a lot differently if it was taken care of and thought of as important from the very beginning.”
Another report said even after McGowan agreed with a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agent to turn herself in on or around Aug. 31, three additional people filed police reports.
When asked about this SLED spokesperson Renee Wunderlich told us that “this matter is not a SLED investigation.”
Law Enforcement Challenges
“If you don’t know where the suspect is, it is very difficult to bring someone to justice and that is the crux of the challenge,” public information officer Anthony Gibson with the Charleston Police Department said.
There are no police reports filed with the department in this case, but Gibson says online scams are a commonly reported crime.
It was believed McGowan lived somewhere in the Clemson area. At one point, she also lived in North Carolina and moved to South Carolina with an active warrant for her arrest, a report filed in 2021 said.
She is now facing an additional charge for being a “fugitive from justice.”
It can also be difficult to verify the identity of the person behind the screen, according to property crime detective John Wiedemann with the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office. Most often, he said, offenders do not use personal identifying information and create fake accounts or hack others.
Agencies usually have a limited number of staff to address white-collar crimes.
Wiedemann said cases are reviewed for “solvability factors” like the dollar amount taken and the manpower required, including requesting multiple search warrants.
He said when it comes to arrest warrants, violent crimes are often prioritized over white-collar crimes.
Protecting yourself from online scams
The Federal Trade Commission reports that scams are a multi-billion-dollar industry. In 2022 alone, social media scams cost victims $1.2 billion.
When it comes to buying tickets, the Better Business Bureau and other experts recommend always buying directly from the venue.
For those affected in this case, they say they’ve learned a hard lesson.
They recommend to others if you have to buy from a stranger, do your research and try to buy from people you know.
“I didn’t do quite as much upfront but found out an awful lot afterward,” Cote said.
“I would have found several posts on Tigernet, on Facebook and other sites that mentioned her name and that she was a known scammer,” Smith said.
Gibson said the best way to not be a victim of a scam is to take proactive measures:
- Be skeptical. Sellers should have something to prove.
- Don’t put down a deposit for something you don’t have yet
- Don’t meet in private
Wiedemann also recommends if you’re using an electronic method to send tickets, if there is an option, choose “merchant payment”. It will charge the recipient 3% extra but can protect the buyer from fraud.
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