Sacto 9-1-1
October 15, 2009
Costly scam prompts Sacramento County officials to issue warning

From Kim Minugh:

Sacramento County sheriff's detectives are warning the public about a new variation of the classic "pigeon drop" scam that recently cost a 72-year-old woman $10,000 and a lot of grief.

The victim was shopping at a Wal-Mart store in Rancho Cordova in September when she was approached by a woman who said she had found an envelope full of diamonds while working at a local hotel, sheriff's Sgt. Tim Curran said. The woman said she needed to sell the diamonds to pay for her mother's cancer treatment.

The scammer stopped another man walking by -- who was part of the caper -- and asked him for help, Curran said. The man suggested that he take the diamonds inside the Wal-Mart and ask a jeweler there to appraise the diamonds, Curran said.

The man went into the store and then returned to the women, saying the diamonds were worth $20,000 to $30,000, Curran said. The victim then purchased two of the supposed diamonds for $10,000. When she took them to a jeweler, she found out they were crystals, Curran said.

The sheriff's department described the female suspect as Hispanic, in her 40s, 5-foot, 3-inches tall and weighing 125 pounds. She was wearing pink pants, a short-sleeve shirt with multi-colored "drops" on it, a fisherman-type hat and sunglasses with shiny white frames. She had dark hair and carried a long black handbag with multiple gold accents.

The male suspect is described as a white or possibly Hispanic man and in his 20s. He is roughly 5-foot-4, weighs 160 pounds, has a tan complexion and black hair. He was wearing a tan polo shirt and blue jeans.

Curran outlined the standard formula of a pigeon-drop scheme:

* A stranger, or strangers, gain the victim's confidence with a believable story.

* The stranger asks for the victim's help or promises the victim money or goods.

* Then that person asks the victim to show "good faith" by producing cash in advance for the promised money or goods.

Curran encouraged people victimized by such scams, or who have been approached by people who seem to be carrying out such a scam, to report it to law enforcement. He wrote in a news release: "Don't feel foolish or stupid. Reporting is vital. Very few frauds are reported, which leaves the con artists free to rob other people of their money and trust."

Anyone with information about the Wal-Mart incident is asked to call sheriff's elder abuse detectives at (916) 874-5070 or Crime Alert at (916) 443-4357 or text in a tip to 274637. Enter the word "SACTIP" followed by the tip information. Callers can remain anonymous and might be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

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