'L.A. Times' Travel Editor Snared By Wedding Scam

In May 2008, a bride and groom were scammed out of thousands of dollars paid toward a fake wedding venue. The bride happened to be the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times who'd advised her readers on how not to get hoodwinked on the Internet. The editor, Catharine Hamm tells the story to NPR's Melissa Block.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

As you travel home from Thanksgiving or scan the Internet to plan your next vacation, we have a cautionary tale for you. It comes from someone who should've known better. Catharine Hamm is the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. She was planning her wedding for May of last year in Oahu when she got scammed. Catharine Hamm, welcome to the program.

Ms. CATHARINE HAMM (Travel Editor, Los Angeles Times): Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: And you write in your article in the L.A. Times: I always assumed that people who got scammed were knuckleheads. Now I know they are people just like me. What happened?

Ms. HAMM: I had contracted to rent a place on Oahu very close to my childhood home, so I was very excited about it. And about six days before the wedding we realized that the place did not exist. What I had done was really stupid. And it was that I had wired money, had not used a credit card because the person who rented this to me said time is short, so we must have cash from you. And that was a huge mistake.

BLOCK: And you were scrambling because your original venue had fallen through. You needed to find something quick.

Ms. HAMM: Right. So we were in a bind anyway. And besides her sense of urgency, there was my sense of urgency. It was sort of like the perfect storm.

BLOCK: When you booked this house, the supposed house for your wedding, how much money did you wire to this woman?

Ms. HAMM: Four thousand seven hundred fifty dollars.

BLOCK: And it's gone.

Ms. HAMM: It is gone.

BLOCK: So you go on your honeymoon, you come back. And at some point you start trying to figure out who it was who had perpetrated this fraud on you. And you found the person. She has quite a story, quite a biography. Tell us about it.

Ms. HAMM: The person who was alleged to have done this, in many ways I admire her. She has done many different things and she's also incredibly bright. She had gone to Scotland on a vacation, had met a British aristocrat, and they had married some months later. That marriage didn't last. And she came to the United States, married a fellow up in Seattle. Did some charity work, amazingly enough. But she allegedly has a sideline business in which she rents rental houses for vacation venues that are simply not hers to rent.

BLOCK: You name the woman in the article as Amanda Movius - that's her maiden name. And you, through Internet searches, find other of her alleged victims. What did they tell you about her?

Ms. HAMM: Essentially much of the same thing that I already knew about her, that she was very charming. She came across as very confident. That all of the arrangements seemed very professional. That she seemed like she was on the up-and-up. Of course, then they at some point realized that there was no house. Or if there was a house, it was not hers to rent.

BLOCK: You also were able to track down Amanda's family members. You talked to her father in Fairbanks, Alaska and it turns out she has a really tragic family story behind her.

Ms. HAMM: She lost her mother at a very young age. Her mom had some addiction issues and died when Amanda was just in a high school. And Fairbanks in those days was kind of a rowdy place. So it was a kind of an interesting combination of factors.

BLOCK: And her brother told you, I know she struggles and I know she suffers and I want her to find her way to help.

Ms. HAMM: Her brother and her sister and her father, I have to say, were extremely cooperative in the course of this story. They're all very articulate and they love her because she is family. But they also realize that there are some issues there - issues that they don't have. And so it's the unconditional love of a family, yet, tempered with the knowledge that perhaps there's some issues there that need to be dealt with.

BLOCK: Where is the woman whom we came to know as Amanda Movius, where is she now?

Ms. HAMM: She is in jail in Travis County, Texas, that's Austin. And that's where the charges are pending against her.

BLOCK: And what are those charges?

Ms. HAMM: There are three that have to do with renting houses that either did not exist or were not hers to rent. The others have nothing to do with that. They have to do with identity fraud. My case, however, is in Smith County, Texas in Tyler, Texas. The money that I wired was sent to a bank in Tyler, Texas.

BLOCK: At the end of your story in the L.A. Times, you write that sometimes you do feel sorry for Amanda.

Ms. HAMM: One of the things that I learned during all of this was that if I continue to be angry, the person that hurts is me, not Amanda. And, really, somebody who does this, and I have to say that what happened to me was really very annoying because it was a wedding. I was excited. It was - I was a middle-aged bride. It was my first time. I was sort of breathless. And I think, how could somebody be that mean? And then I realized, you know, somebody who does that is really not the object of scorn, maybe she's the object of pity.

BLOCK: Catharine Hamm, thanks for talking with us.

Ms. HAMM: Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Catharine Hamm is the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times.

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