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September 4, 2013

New confidence scam going around Madison Heights

Be wary of men asking for directions and offering to pay for a ride

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

MADISON HEIGHTS — Police are investigating reports of a new confidence scam in Madison Heights.

The victim, a 72-year-old Royal Oak man, notified authorities Aug. 19. He described two suspects: Suspect No. 1, a black male, possibly of Jamaican descent, who appears about 45 years old, 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, with a shaved head; and Suspect No. 2, also a black male, apparently American, who gave the name “Jay” and looks to be about 45 years old, 6 feet tall and 180 pounds, with short hair.

The first suspect allegedly approached the victim in the parking lot of the Home Depot at 660 W. 12 Mile, asking for directions.

“Suspect No. 1 provided the victim with a scrap of paper that had a person’s name on it and a vague description of a location,” said Madison Heights Police Lt. Robert Anderson. “He said he needed to get to a building with a blue front.”

The victim offered to drive Suspect No. 1 to the parking lot at Kmart, 29101 John R. There, they saw Suspect No. 2, who also asked for directions. The second suspect pretended to not know the first, and was even more vague about his destination.

Soon, the victim was driving around both suspects. Suspect No. 1 kept chatting with him, building trust.

“He (Suspect No. 1) was pleasant, talking about religion and trust,” Anderson said. “He is a con artist. That’s his game: to gain someone’s trust through the gift of gab.”

Eventually, Suspect No. 1 indicated he had received a substantial inheritance, showing a wad of cash strapped to a money belt around his waist. He said he’d pay the victim and Suspect No. 2 $10,000 each, if they could get him to his destination.

But first, in order for him to trust them, they would each have to produce a large amount of money, as well. They went to a bank at 12 Mile and Dequindre, where Suspect No. 2 exited the vehicle. They didn’t see him actually go into the bank, but when he returned, he had an envelope with around $20,000 in cash.

“That was the point where the victim went home and got his money,” Anderson said.

The victim dropped off the two suspects at the Speedway at 12 Mile and Campbell, then came back, picked them up and drove over to Hollywood Market nearby, away from the building. Here, the exchange took place.

First, Suspect No. 2 set down his money, stepped back and waved his hands. When Suspect No. 1 was satisfied, he told the victim to do the same thing. And so the victim set down $13,000, wrapped in aluminum foil. But when he walked several feet away, Suspect No. 2 rushed in, snatching up the victim’s money and his own. They fled down the alleyway behind Hollywood Market.

“The victim panicked, got in his vehicle, drove through the alleyway to locate both suspects, turned the corner and discovered they had both disappeared,” Anderson said.

In hindsight, the victim noted that Suspect No. 1 had instructed him during their travels to stay away from buildings — likely to avoid being seen by potential witnesses or captured on closed-circuit surveillance.

Anderson said these con artists are skilled at what they do.

“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Anderson said. “There’s often an element of free money involved, and you always have to ask that general question. That’s the way it goes.”

Anyone with information on these or other incidents can contact Madison Heights detectives at (248) 585-2100.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.