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New Scamming Trend: Getting Victims To Buy Gold Bars

Lisa Bromley, a police officer in suburban Maryland, disguised herself in a wig and a coronavirus mask, playing the role of a scam victim who police say had been bilked out of about $789,000 worth of gold bars. The plan worked, with the arrest of Wenhui Sun, 34, of Lake Arbor, Calif. Authorities say his scam was part of a growing trend by swindlers, reports the Washington Post. Posing as federal investigators, they persuade their targets to buy gold bars — and turn them over for safekeeping — while purported investigators try to identify thieves who might otherwise have raided the target’s bank accounts. “They’re doing anything they can to get to these people,” said Bromley, a financial crimes investigator who worked a similar case last year in which the victim lost more than $1 million. “It breaks your heart.”

The scammers project concern and subtle force, suggesting that if their targets don’t act quickly, they’ll not only lose their savings, but they’ll also miss out on a chance to help the government take down dangerous identity thieves. “Once the victim is on the hook, the scammer will keep going,” said FBI agent Keith Custer. Victims of the gold bar and related scams can be smart, Custer said. “Doctors, lawyers, executives. I’ve seen pretty much any victim.” The Maryland case began on March 10, when a woman reported that she thought she had been swindled. Iin February, she received a phone call from a man who identified himself as “Mark Cooper” from “the Office of the Inspector General, Federal Trade Commission.” "Cooper" told the woman she had been the victim of identity theft that had led to a federal drug and money laundering probe. The man put her in contact with someone who identified himself as “Officer David Freeman,” who said he could provide her with a new Social Security number and witness protection. “To ensure her cooperation and secure her assets, [the woman] was directed to purchase gold bars,” detectives wrote, “which were to be turned over to FBI agents who would get the bars and place them into the U.S. Department of Treasury.” Evoking the protection of an asset like gold is key to such schemes, said the FBI's Custer. “They like to conjure up Federal Reserve banks, images of stacks of gold at Fort Knox.”


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