CHP looking for victims in ongoing jewelry-for-gas-money scam

A scam reported last month as occurring up and down the San Joaquin Valley appears to have become a statewide issue, a California Highway Patrol officer said Wednesday.

It involves drivers of purportedly disabled vehicles on freeways and county roads flagging down motorists and asking for gas money in exchange for jewelry the scammers are wearing: necklaces, rings, bracelets, watches.

“The jewelry is stamped 18K and is portrayed to be worth more than amount they are requesting,” according to a CHP news release Wednesday. “The subjects have used elaborate stories to explain why they need money; their wallet was stolen/lost or a family member was in the hospital and needed surgery.“

Pawn shops have received some of the jewelry and found it to be brass, CHP Officer Shasta Tollefson told The Bee.

“The pawn shops will not assign a value to the pieces,” she said. “There have also been reports of counterfeit Rolex watches.”

The scam has been the subject of numerous 911 calls over the past few months. In late December, a CHP news release said that in each case, the perpetrator was a Middle Eastern man, wearing a gold chain, who asked people to buy gold jewelry from him so he and his family could eat or get home.

It said that in some cases, the man approached people at gas stations, even jumping in front of vehicles if the drivers didn’t stop. The man had several small children inside a black full-size SUV, and was possibly working with another adult.

The news release issued Wednesday said the scammers dress professionally, speak with a thick accent and are believed to be from Romania. They “have been using various types of vehicles, generally SUV style. The vehicles have been reported as rentals.”

Tollefson said the CHP is trying to determine how many people are out there running this scam, and in what areas. Officers need victims to step forward, she said. “It is possible that this has occurred within Stanislaus County. We are discovering that this a statewide issue.”

Motorists are asked to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity of this nature. If the scammers make contact, intended victims are urged to take down suspect descriptions. The CHP also seeks photographic evidence.

Information should be reported to the CHP Central Division at 559-277-7250.

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.