Couple duped in ‘very unusual’ gold bar scam loses over RM550,000, US cops say

A couple was convinced to buy gold bars and hand them over to fraudsters in an elaborate and unusual scam. — Image by freepik

A Nebraska couple was recently scammed out of US$115,000 (RM551,080) in a “very unusual” and “scary” fraud scheme, investigators say.

A couple – ages 71 and 68 – were at their home in Lancaster County on Friday, March 29, when their computer suddenly shut down, Chief Deputy Ben Houchin said during an April 16 news briefing. When it rebooted, a message appeared stating there was a “malware issue” with the computer, and a phone number was listed, Houchin said. They called it.

The voice that answered had bad news, the couple told investigators. Not only had US$5,000 (RM23,960) been stolen from them, but the FBI also “was looking into them for child porn”, Houchin said.

None of this was true, according to Houchin, but more calls came over the next few days and the couple became increasingly certain they may have broken the law, and that their bank accounts were vulnerable.

By April 1, the voice on the phone convinced them to buy gold bars, Houchin said. They withdrew US$115,000 (RM551,080) from their bank accounts and spent it on gold bars at a local business.

The voice instructed them to place the bars in a cardboard box and hand them over to a man who would take the gold to Washington, D.C., where it would be stored for them in a secure bank, according to investigators.

Five days later, a man showed up at their home in a silver Ford Explorer, Houchin said. The couple gave him the box as ordered and he left.

Some time passed and they heard nothing more from the caller. They called the bank, then the sheriff’s office, realising too late they’d been duped, Houchin said.

“I’m sure they’re embarrassed (about) what transpired,” Houchin said, adding that scams like this rely on scare tactics to keep victims from thinking clearly.

The couple’s money is probably gone for good.

“It’s going to be extremely difficult for us to locate the gold bars,” Houchin said.

“We will do everything we possibly can,” he added. “(But) it’s very likely ... this is out of the country by now.”

The scam was “very unusual”, and more concerning than many other similar fraud schemes, Houchin said.

“The ... scary part about this is, usually, they have them mail or give them numbers on credit cards,” he said. “It is very unusual that a person actually shows up at a residence and takes the money.”

Houchin urged anyone who suspects they’re being scammed to call their bank or law enforcement.

“If they’d have done either one of those, this would not have occurred,” he said.

Lancaster County encompasses the city of Lincoln and is a roughly 50-mile drive southwest from Omaha.

As strange as the gold bar scam strategy may seem, a similar plot was recently carried out in Maryland – leading to the arrest of a 34-year-old California man, Wenhui Sun, Maryland authorities said in a March news release.

Sun claimed to be an employee of the federal government and cheated a victim out of nearly US$800,000 (RM3.83mil) before being caught. – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service

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