Network of scammers leaves growing list of victims in California

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN/CNN) – Police in California are warning residents about con artists posing as a family in need.

Officials say they’ve gotten dozens of calls describing the same scam: individuals pretending to be stranded, begging for help, even offering to sell their jewelry for cash.

Scam victim Robert Ruiz said, “He was like, ‘Can you help me out? I need help. I’m trying to get to Oregon. I have no gas my kids are hungry they haven’t ate.’”

Ruiz was at the gas station, just before his son’s baseball practice, when he became the target of the latest scam to hit the Central Valley. He said, “I looked in the car and his wife was in the car she’s like, ‘Please help me.’ And she’s like begging. And I saw two little girls so I felt really bad.”

Like dozens of valley motorists who have been approached by these con-artists, the man in nice clothing, offered to sell the jewelry off his hands if he could just get a little help. After Ruiz said no, the encounter became more aggressive.

“At one time I had a watch a necklace a bracelet and ring all in my hand and he grabbed my hand and was trying to give me that,” Ruiz said.

Between the pull at his hands and heartstrings, Ruiz reached for the $100 cash he had for his son’s new baseball uniform. Ruiz said, “He cupped my hand kissed it and looked up, ‘Thank you, Allah.’”

Ruiz even offered to take the family to a nearby restaurant, but they declined, saying they were in a rush, so once he filled up their tank they took off.

But it was only after Action News aired the story on this scam that he realized he fell victim as well.

Jarrod Banta with the California Highway Patrols explained, “They’ll be parked, see a car coming, flag the car down. I’ve gotten reports with them getting in the lanes forcing cars to pull over.”

Banta said within the last few weeks authorities have caught up with, who they’re saying are only a few, of a much larger network.

This time the car was on the side of the road at Jensen and 41. “They did have rings in their possession,” Banta stated. “They had necklaces and they had jewelry, and they even had polishing compound to make the jewelry look really pretty.”

CHP said there’s a growing list of victims, but there are as many as 70 who have come forward statewide.

They say the suspects have been reported to work as a family and typically have young children with them.

Investigators say they dress professionally, speak with a thick accent, and are believed to be from Romania.

“We don’t want anyone to get injured,” Banda added. “We don’t want anybody to get injured on the freeway. We don’t want anybody to get injured in a gas station or when they get approached.”

Police are advising the public to call 911 if they encounter suspicious individuals like the ones perpetrating the scam.

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