Robert Mills is an expert on plumbing, and after what happened to him a few days ago, he has now become an authority on street ripoffs.
“I think I was more embarrassed than anything else that I would fall for such a stupid scam,” Mills said.
A stranger approached Mills in the driveway of one of his customers as he was doing a plumbing job.
“He pulled up right behind, stopped right there, a man with two kids and his wife in the van and asked for help,” Mills explained.
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
The man told Mills he had lost his wallet and offered to sell him a gold ring, which to Mills felt and looked like the real thing. Mills told him to go to a pawn shop, which the guy said he could not do without identification.
“But he got the wife involved and the kids and they seemed like they were desperate, so I gave him the hundred bucks and he handed me this ring, it was more like a trinket than a ring, as soon as I had it in my hand I said, oh, this is just costume jewelry, and they drove away,” Mills said.
“Unfortunately, what they’re engaged in is organized and it’s highly profitable,” said Sgt. Marc Frieder of the Aventura Police Department. “They’ve got children there that are designed to reduce your level of alarm or concern, this person’s a family person, how could they ever hurt me?”
Frieder is an expert on transient offender scams, and actually teaches other cops about these organized crimes, which include distraction burglaries, in which one person poses as a worker at the front door while an accomplice breaks into the house, and sweetheart swindles, which involved preying on the lonely.
“In this particular case,” Frieder said, describing a case from a few years ago, “This gentleman was brought a credit receipt, signed for it, and purchased a large amount of merchandise that these two attractive ladies proceeded to take and resell in a secondary market.”
This is the season for the crooks to migrate to South Florida, looking for easy targets.
“Unfortunately, like your victim in this case, people have a good heart, they want to help other people especially during the holiday season,” Frieder said.
“I just don’t want anyone else to fall for this scam,” Mills said.
Frieder praised Mills for speaking out to help others because he says most victims are too embarrassed to admit they’ve been victimized.