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SIMI VALLEY | VENTURA COUNTY FOCUS

Scam Victim Loses Thousands of Dollars

September 26, 1996|HILARY E. MacGREGOR

It was an offer so good she should have refused.

But Mary Marin, 62, of Simi Valley didn't. So she lost several thousand dollars to scam artists Tuesday.

"This is a typical, absolutely classic scam," said Simi Valley Police Sgt. Bob Gardner.

This is how it worked:

A Latino woman in her late 50s approached Marin in the local K mart and asked her if she spoke Spanish, and if so, could she help her find the immigration office.

Just then, a Latino man approached, saying he knew where the immigration office was. He suggested they all go together in Marin's car. And when they got into the car the woman confided to both that she had a winning lottery ticket, but she couldn't cash it in because she is an illegal immigrant. At that point, the man suggested to Marin that the two of them buy the ticket from the immigrant woman and cash it in in return for half the winnings.

Marin was hooked.

She drove to the bank and withdrew stacks of cash. When she got back to the car the immigrant woman said she felt ill and asked Marin to take her to a nearby Thrifty's so she could buy medicine.

Upon arrival, the man suggested that he and Marin exchange her money for the ticket so the sick woman could be on her way. They swapped--several thousand dollars of Marin's money in return for the winning ticket. The man forwarded no money of his own.

Then the woman asked Marin if she could dash in and buy the medication for her. When Marin got back, her car, the two Latinos and her money were gone.

"The lotto scam works this way, right down to the drugstore aspect and everything," said Gardner.

Gardner said there have been several almost identical scams in Southern California in recent years. It appears that con artists work a route, canvassing one city for a few days, then moving on like traveling salesmen when word gets out. Apprehensions are rare, because the perpetrators look ordinary and move fast.

There are organized gangs of scam artists in the greater Los Angeles area, said Gardner, who roam the countryside looking for gullible victims.

"You look at it, and you say, 'naahhhhh.' But a lot of people fall for it," Gardner said.

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