Beware of fake-jewelry scams on street

Targeting the Hispanic community with sad stories about needing to unload diamonds for quick cash, scammers have made off with thousands of dollars this month by selling worthless costume jewelry in parking lot deals, Medford police said.

A 30-year-old Hispanic woman from Eagle Point lost $7,000 Thursday when she agreed to buy a diamond — which turned out to be fake — from a man who approached her in the Rogue Valley Mall parking lot and said he had to sell two diamonds to help pay medical bills for his wife, who had been in a car crash, Medford police Sgt. Kevin Walruff said.

As the man talked with the Eagle Point woman, another woman walked by and he showed her the diamonds, too. That woman said she knew an employee at a jewelry store inside the mall and would take the gems in to get them appraised. She returned and said her friend confirmed that they were worth $14,000 and she wanted to buy one of them, Walruff said.

The Eagle Point woman took the man to her home to collect the cash and he gave her the diamond. She later discovered it was fake and reported the scheme to police.

She described the man and woman, who apparently was working with him, as Hispanic and in their 40s or 50s. The woman had waist-length black hair.

Thursday's victim was the third this month, Walruff said. All the victims have been Hispanic, as are the suspects.

A young woman lost $500 on May 15 after buying a nearly worthless necklace near Hawthorne Park from a 30-something woman who said she needed money to cover burial expenses for her husband, who had died on the border between Mexico and Guatemala, Walruff said.

On Tuesday in the Winco parking lot, an older woman lost $2,000 buying fake diamonds from a man in his 20s. He told her the gems were worth between $8,000 and $15,000, but he immediately needed money for family medical bills so he would let her have them for whatever she could offer.

"They are losing a large amount of money to people who approach them on the street," Walruff said.

Detectives suspect the scammers likely have approached other people who refused the deal and never reported it, Walruff said.

"Anybody who is approached should contact police," he said.

Because the descriptions of the people offering the diamonds or jewelry for sale vary, investigators suspect a team or family might be responsible for them all. They might be working along Interstate 5 as similar cases have been reported in Salem recently, Walruff said. Detectives are checking with other police agencies for additional reports here and elsewhere along the freeway corridor.

Walruff said one similar case was reported in Medford last year. In 2006, a pair of Hispanic men targeted other Hispanics in attempts to sell fake gold bars in Medford parking lots and made off with several thousand dollars.

Police ask anyone with information about jewelry-selling schemes to call investigators at 770-4784.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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