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Troy — Police say an elderly man may have been scammed out of $710,000 over the past nine years by a woman he befriended in a grocery market parking lot.

The 76-year-old Troy man told police the 27-year-old woman struck up a conversation with him in the parking lot at South Boulevard and Rochester Road on May 15, 2006. She gave him a hard luck story about how her husband had been killed in a car crash, leaving her a pregnant widow, in dire financial trouble and facing eviction.

“He felt sorry for her and wanted to help her out,” said Troy Police Sgt. Megan Lehman. "He had a big heart and she apparently knew she could take advantage of him.”

The man, a retired medical professional who lives alone, declined to be interviewed by The Detroit News.

Lehman said the victim told police he repeatedly gave the woman cash to pay her rent, cover funeral expenses and pay off $60,000 in American Express credit card bills.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

Somehow, she subsequently convinced the man she had medical problems that prevented her from working and needed nearly $400,000 to pay for surgery and chemotherapy treatments.

Investigators believe the medical problems are as phony as the 30-year-old “nephew” she introduced to the victim — police believe he is actually her common-law husband and part of the scam.

“When she wanted to move into a house, the victim gave her $120,000 to buy one in Farmington Hills,” Lehman said, “although he has never seen the inside of the place. They knew where he lived and always came to his home seeking money for one thing or another. She was very needy.”

The victim, who lived alone, also said he bought the woman a 2014 Chevrolet Corvette and gave her $25,000 “to pay for nursing school,” which investigators believe was nonexistent. The Troy man said the last cash exchange was on July 1.

Within a few weeks, the gravy train ended after Sterling Heights police began investigating the woman — and her husband — in connection with an unrelated scam. After investigators contacted the Troy man, he filed a police report Aug. 14, Lehman said.

No one is in custody and no one has been charged in the Troy incident so far, Lehman said.

“It’s unknown if any crimes were actually committed or what they might be,” Lehman said. “His claims need to be checked out thoroughly and it will be an extensive investigation.”

Sterling Heights Police were investigating the couple, who live in Sterling Heights, in connection with a driveway scam, according to Captain John Berg, head of criminal investigations. In the course of that probe, Berg tracked ownership on two vehicles in the driveway — a pickup registered to an 85-year-old Clawson man and the Corvette, which came back to the Troy man.

“I warned both of them that they might be victims,” said Berg. “The Clawson man said as partly as a result of his dealings with them he was out about $22,000 and has had to declare bankruptcy. But he doesn’t want to press criminal charges and he just wants to be rid of them.

“The Troy man, who has had this lengthy relationship with them, had bought it hook, line and sinker,” said Berg. “They gained his trust and played to his kind, good nature. He didn’t want to believe what I was telling him until he learned they had never even given him their real names and all the other matters — the husband’s death, medical bills, financial problems — were all lies.”

Berg said people engaged in defrauding the elderly — often described as “sweetheart scams” — seem to have a talent to be able to size up people who live alone and might be vulnerable to their scams.

“Victims are often those born during or after World War II and are very trusting and of a generation who want to do what they can to help others,” he said, noting that anyone who is approached by a stranger seeking money or loans should be cautious and notify police.

Police in both cities said it will be up to the investigators and prosecutors to determine if crimes had been committed.

“One big question will be if there is actual written proof of transactions that (the Troy man) was defrauded by them,” Lehman said. “Everything was in cash and it doesn’t look like his name appears on mortgages, car loans or anything else,” she said.

“You can give your money away any way you want and if these were financial gifts without any promises or understanding for anything in exchange, he could be out everything.”

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319

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