Calgary man raising awareness after near abduction from 'cash for gold' scam
CALGARY -- Wednesday morning started out like any other day for Calgarian Nathan Magee, who was enjoying a cup of coffee and a walk with a local friend near his home.
Everything seemed relatively normal until Magee noticed a woman in distress in the New Brighton strip mall’s parking lot.
"She looked disoriented so I called 911," he said. "Then all of a sudden, this black SUV with tinted out windows pulled up with two masked up people inside (who began) asking me about selling gold."
Magee recognized it as a scam immediately, but stayed on the line with police to relay them information. The Calgary man played along and tried on a gold ring that was handed to him by a woman inside the SUV.
"I went to give her back the ring and as I’m handing back the ring, she grabs a hold of both of my wrists and starts pulling me into her van and it was just complete chaos."
"As they were pulling me in, the back window came down and I thought, 'I'm dead.' I was just waiting for a gun to come down and I was scared."
Magee managed to escape, but says the people inside the SUV were still following him as he walked along the sidewalk.
"They were yelling and screaming at me for something and shouting at me for money," he said.
Within minutes, four police cruisers showed up to arrest the individuals. Magee says a little girl was also in the back seat of the SUV, which prompted him to be concerned for her safety.
"I’ve had a wild couple of years, but this is the icing on cake for 2021."
POLICE WARN ABOUT 'DISTRACTION THEFTS'
Calgary police are now warning people about the dangers of so-called ‘distraction thefts’ and to be vigilant of scams.
Since March 1, investigators have received reports of 10 Calgarians being victimized by scams that often occur in a public setting, such as gas stations, where offenders ask for money or offer gold or jewellery in exchange for money.
According to the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT), there were 84 reports of the cash for gold scam reported to police agencies in Alberta with losses reported to be just over $20,000.
A total of 12 reports of distraction thefts involving jewellery were also reported across the province with losses of under $20,000.
CPS Staff Sgt. Jeremy Wittman says sometimes offenders will initiate physical contact with victims to discretely steal or swap items.
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is, just listen to your guts and instinct," he said.
"The people that are approaching victims look like normal people, but again it’s never normal to buy high value jewelry in exchange for cash from someone you don’t know."
Wittman adds that it is common for offenders to travel in rental vehicles as a way to conceal their identity. The investigations into the incidents are ongoing at this time and there is no word on if any crimes are connected.
Some tips for Calgarians to protect themselves include:
- Questioning if an item offered for sale is real
- Not feeling pressured to say yes
- Keeping physical distance and never allowing unknown people into your home
Anyone with information about recent distraction thefts is asked to report it immediately by calling the Calgary Police non-emergency line at 403-266-1234. If witnessing a crime in progress, police say Calgarians should always call 911.
Elizabeth Henao, the manager of Calgary’s Smart Gold shop, says more and more Calgarians are coming to her store looking to sell fake items.
"You have to be alert with this type of situation because it’s getting worse and worse all the time," she said.
"People think it’s real gold when they come here, but the result is that it’s fake and they’re getting scammed," she says. "It’s happening at least once or up to three times every week."
Henao says it’s becoming more common with the pandemic, but her shop ensures that items are in fact genuine by using magnets and special machines to determine their exact elements.
Consumers should never buy gold from the streets, she said, but should instead buy from licensed jewelry stores.
Wes Lafortune with the Better Business Bureau agrees that it is up to the consumer to educate themselves on what they own or are planning to purchase.
"The person that you’re selling your gold to should be very transparent and should provide exactly that weight, there should be some sort of record and it’s important for the consumer to know the price of gold so they should have some expectation."
Lafortune adds that consumers should get items appraised multiple times, find out if other fees are involved and consider insurance when dealing with reimbursement policies should an item get lost.