Murder of retired California teacher in Jamaica puts lottery scams in the spotlight

Heidi Ann Muth’s obituary page.

Heidi Ann Muth was found face down in a pool of blood last week, left for dead on a dirt road in Jamaica after she was brutally stabbed in the head and back several times.  The 68-year-old Californian had spent more than year 30 years teaching young kids how to love history. Deeply involved in her community, she was on the board of Saint Joseph’s Hospital and a local opera. She worked with The Boys and Girls Club of Stanton and the Knights of Malta.  She taught  confirmation classes at a local church and coached basketball, according to the Orange County Register.

She had survived cancer, and lost her long-time husband to cancer, according to local media.  But it appears she was unable to survive a brush with Jamaican scam artists.

Details about the incident are still trickling out of Jamaica, but multiple reports indicate that Muth ended up traveling there by herself as result of a lottery scam.

In the scam, criminals contact Americans — mainly the elderly — and promise them winnings from a lottery, but ask for an up-front fee. The crime is so rampant, and so successful, that it has reached Nigerian 419 scam levels.  Just this summer, the U.S. Department of Justice extradited a group Jamaicans to North Dakota, alleging they tricked at least 90 people out of more than $5.7 million dollars. That investigation began after a North Dakota woman lost $300,000 .

Arrests are rare, however, and those numbers barely hint at the scale of the crime.  Steve Baker, who publishes the Baker Fraud Report, says there are more than 100,000 reports of victims filed with the Federal Trade Commission every year, and estimates that as much as $1 billion is bilked annually.

Some victims, like Muth, lose far more than money.

So far, authorities have announced few details about their investigation and there are no official suspects.  But Jamaican press has openly speculated that Muth had traveled in connection with a lottery scam. The Jamaica Star reported on Friday that Muth had told authorities and friends about the crime and was warned not to travel to Jamaica, but did so anyway.

“We are following some leads and it is strongly suspected that it is as a result of her being a victim of lottery scamming sometime ago,” a senior police officer close to the investigation told the Jamaica Observer, the paper said. 

Meanwhile, the Orange County Register interviewed a long-time friend who said Muth had revealed to her she was owed money by someone in Jamaica.

“That would be enough for her to do down there,”  the friend, Sarah Schiermeyer told the newspaper.  “Everyone said she was throwing good money after bad money. But Heidi would get a bee in her bonnet and was very stubborn about stuff. It’s absolutely horrid what happened to her.”

My efforts to reach Schiermeyer have been unsuccessful so far.

Muth’s obituary says she had three children and was a widow.

“She was a loving adventurous woman who was a teacher for over 30 years. She was married to Lynn George Muth and raised three children together. She lives on in her one grandchild as well as her beautiful family,” the obit reads.

Her family has asked those attending her funeral to wear yellow, and that yellow flowers be sent to the funeral home.  The family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Cancer Society of America or several other charities.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO RIGHT NOW: Talk to your elderly family members about money.  Don’t be afraid, don’t let them be ashamed. You never know what people are doing during cold, dark, lonely nights.  Don’t be judgmental. Just listen, and look for signs that anything unsual is happening with family finances. IF you think you and yours can’t fall for this kind of thing, you are wrong.

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About Bob Sullivan 1399 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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