What we know about the shooting of an Uber driver in Ohio and the scam surrounding it

It was a common scam that ended with an unusual outcome, tragically in a driveway in Ohio.

William J. Brock fatally shot an Uber driver because he wrongly assumed she was part of a scheme to obtain $12,000 in alleged bond money for a family member, authorities said this week. Lo-Letha Hall was a victim of the same scam and was called to Brock’s house by the scammers to pick up a so-called package for delivery.

Brock later told investigators he believed Hall arrived to get the money the scammers wanted.

He is now charged with murder, to which he pleads not guilty. Hall’s family is in mourning. And Uber is helping investigators catch whoever was behind the attempted scam.

The scam is commonly known as grandparent scams or fraud, exploiting the elderly’s love for their families, experts say. Callers claim to be everyone from grandchildren to police, telling victims that something terrible has happened and their younger relative needs money.

Here’s what we know so far about the shooting and investigation:

Brock, 81, received scam calls on the morning of March 25 at his home in South Charleston, a city of about 1,800 between Dayton and Columbus. The calls involved an incarcerated family member and “devolved into threats and a demand for money,” according to a statement from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

While Brock was on the phone, Hall received a request through the Uber app to pick up a package from Brock’s home for delivery, the sheriff’s office said. Hall, 61, of Columbus, was unaware of the attempted scam.

“When approached by Ms. Hall, Mr. Brock pulled out a gun and held her at gunpoint, demanding the identities of the individuals he had spoken to on the phone,” the sheriff’s office said.

Hall was unarmed and never threatened Brock or made demands of him, the sheriff’s office said.

Brock grabbed Hall’s cell phone and refused to let her leave, the sheriff’s office said. When she tried to get back into her car, Brock shot her. He shot her a second time and a third time during subsequent skirmishes.

Brock then called 911 to report that he had shot someone on his property who was trying to rob him.

Police body camera footage shows him briefly discussing what he believes happened.

“I’m sure glad to see you guys here because I’ve been on the phone for a few hours with a guy trying to tell me I had a cousin in jail and had a wreck in Charleston and just kept hanging around and I need bond money,” Brock said. “And this woman was going to get it.”

The footage shows investigators discussing $12,000 while sitting on a table in Brock’s home.

The footage also shows a Clark County Sheriff’s Office detective at Brock’s home on the phone with a man who previously spoke to Brock. He identified himself as an officer and told the detective, “You’re going to get in trouble.”

When the detective identified himself as a real police officer, the call was disconnected. During a subsequent phone call with the man, the detective told him that the Uber driver had been in a serious accident, was in the hospital and was “not doing well.”

The man told the detective he would be there in 20 minutes. He was not.

Brock was charged Monday with murder, assault and kidnapping. He posted $200,000 bail and was released from the Clark County Jail on Wednesday. His attorney, Paul Kavanagh, did not immediately return an email seeking comment Friday.

Grandparent scams have become increasingly common over the past 10 to 15 years — in part because of the abundance of personal information available about people online, says Anthony Pratkanis, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Criminals gather specific details about someone’s relative on social media and use the information to convince victims their loved one is in trouble, said Pratkanis, whose research also includes fraud crimes.

“What the criminal is really doing is taking advantage of our human nature,” he said. ‘You are panicking and very emotional. It’s a terrifying drug. And the best way to get rid of that fear is to give the criminal that money.”

Fraudsters typically prefer financial transactions that don’t require physical proximity, such as bank transfers, gift cards or cryptocurrency, Pratkanis said. This case is unusual because the scammers use Hall as an unsuspecting money mule.

“Most people involved in today’s scams don’t really interact with the criminal – there is a distance,” Pratkanis said. “But if not, there is a chance that the victim’s anger will lead to the victim taking action.”

Uber said Wednesday it was helping investigators look into an account that sent Hall to Brock’s home. The taxi company described Hall’s death as “a horrific tragedy.”

An obituary for Hall described her as the parent of a son and a stepson, a devoted member of her church and a talented cook known for her delicious pound cakes.

She retired from the Ohio Regional Income Tax Department and also worked in behavioral health, at a school and for Uber. She studied horticulture at Ohio State and started a cleaning business.

During a memorial service streamed online, her son Mario Hall talked about how close they were even though they lived in different states, often talking on the phone several times a day. He said they had “a bond like no other.”

“Thank you for all your sacrifices and everything you have taught me,” he said. “You are the best mother anyone could ask for. And I promise to continue to make you proud.”