Police: 80-year-old bilked of $14K in role-playing scam
West Bloomfield — Four individuals conned an 80-year-old woman out of $14,000 earlier this month using an elaborate role-playing scam that began inside a grocery store, police said.
The incident occurred around 12:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at a Kroger at 4395 Orchard Lake Road, Deputy Police Chief Curt Lawson said.
The scam, which took about an hour to complete, involved a black female suspect who claimed she needed $15,000 from the victim and a white female co-conspirator in order to keep possession of $100,000 supposedly found in a bank bag outside the store, Lawson said. The black female suspect promised the victim $25,000 if she complied.
The entire exchange was monitored by an additional two male suspects, Lawson added.
The scam began with the two female suspects casing Kroger for potential victims.
“We have on video that they were keeping an eye on the victim in the store,” Lawson said. “The victim left the store and went to put her groceries in the car. She was approached by the white female suspect who asked if she had lost her wallet in the parking lot.”
The elderly woman said she did not lose her wallet and the suspect walked away, Lawson said. About one minute later, the black female suspect approached with the same question and produced a bank-type bag holding a large amount of cash.
“The black female suspect says there’s approximately $100,000 in the bag and requests our victim to stay in the parking lot to see if the true owner of the money shows up,” Lawson said. “Our victim agrees to this, and the (suspect) walks away.”
Two male suspects were captured on surveillance footage sitting inside separate vehicles, apparently supervising the exchanges, Lawson said. They were driving newer black passenger vehicles, one with tinted windows.
“It just appears to us, from our experience, that they’re watching the transactions take place,” Lawson said. “They’re keeping an eye on these women and probably the money (the suspects) are showing the victim. They never get out of their cars.”
A short time after the black female suspect walked away with the bag of cash, she returned to the victim’s vehicle, Lawson said.
“She states that she spoke with her boss at the CVS Pharmacy, which is located in the same complex,” he said. “She says that her boss stated that the money was obtained by illegal means and that she could keep it because she found it.”
The suspect offered to give the victim $25,000 of the “found” cash, Lawson said. The suspect also indicated she planned to keep $40,000 for herself, save $10,000 to pay taxes, and give another $25,000 to the white female suspect who had initially approached the victim in the parking lot to inquire about a missing wallet.
The black female suspect then claimed she needed an extra $30,000 in order to “scan the bills into the CVS system to make sure everything is legit,” Lawson said.
It remains unclear if the suspect worked at the nearby CVS and no such scanning system exists, Lawson said.
The victim agreed to drive the suspect to CVS. On the way, she stopped to pick up the white female suspect, Lawson said. The black female suspect then pretended to explain the situation to her partner.
“Our white female suspect says it just so happens she went to her safety deposit box and she produces a large amount of money that she says is $15,000. She gives it to the black female,” Lawson said. “The black female then leaves the car and walks toward CVS.”
A short time later, the suspect returned to the vehicle with what she claimed was $25,000, which she handed to her co-conspirator.
“The white female suspect is overjoyed, says that she’s going to be able to provide for her church and her family,” Lawson said. “She’s ecstatic and she leaves the vehicle.”
Lawson said it is clear from the white female suspect’s behavior on surveillance footage that she was in on the scam and not a second victim.
“She actually motions to the black female at one point,” Lawson said.
After the white female suspect left the vehicle, the black female suspect asked the victim if she was able to produce $15,000 for her share of the cash, Lawson said. The victim drove to a nearby bank and withdrew $14,000.
Lawson said it is unknown why the woman took out $1,000 less than the suspect asked.
“Then she returns, meets up with the black female suspect and gives her the cash,” Lawson said. “Last seen, the suspect was walking toward CVS, never to be seen again.”
The victim has told authorities she is unable to eat or sleep in the aftermath of the scam, Lawson said.
“She cannot believe, thinking back and rethinking the situation, that she fell for this. These suspects were basically acting. They were very convincing to her,” Lawson said. “She’s embarrassed.”
Lawson said the victim is eager for her ordeal to be publicized, hopefully preventing future successful cons.
“The public needs to be aware that these scams are going on and to be leery,” said Lawson, adding that law enforcement usually sees an uptick in cons around the holidays.
Other common scams include individuals who claim to be from the IRS, demanding that back taxes be paid immediately, Lawson said. Other suspects impersonate police officers, telling victims their loved ones have been arrested and need bail money.
“Ask questions, maybe vet these (situations) out with a third party,” Lawson said. “(People are) certainly welcome to contact the police and we’ll be more than glad to look into if there’s something suspicious.
The white female suspect from the scam outside Kroger earlier this month is further described by police as 50- to 60-years-old and 170-180 pounds. She has brown hair and was wearing glasses, a tan coat and tan hat, Lawson said.
The black female suspect is described by police as 40- to 50-years-old and 150-160 pounds. She was wearing a puffy white winter coat and a scarf.
There was no further description available for the two male suspects.
Anyone with information about this incident, or other potential scams, is asked to call West Bloomfield police at (248) 975-9200.