Scam makes its way to the Strait area

STRAIT AREA: If someone is waving down motorists on the side of the road and offers what looks like gold jewelry in exchange for money to fill their tank, chances are it’s a scam, RCMP have been warning people.

It’s a scam that had been reported heavily this summer throughout Ontario and Quebec, and looks as if it’s made the trek east to Nova Scotia and has hit the Strait area. In recent weeks, people in Mulgrave, Antigonish, Port Hawkesbury, Havre Boucher, New Glasgow, and Victoria County have all reported similar indicents preying on Good Samaritans who are just trying to help.

What typically happens is a man who is pulled off to the side of the road in a grey minivan, with Ontario plates will frantically wave passersby down. Using a fake Italian accent, the suspect, who is usually accompanied by a young child in the back of the vehicle, will claim he has no gasoline and needs help – money – but in return will offer a piece of gold jewelry, usually off of their body.

“We’ve seen this approach several times this year, all over the province,” RCMP Media Relations Officer Jennifer Clarke said in an e-mail last week. “When we posted a release about something similar, there were comments on the post indicating this has happened in other parts of Canada as well.”

Paul Cogan was on his way to Halifax to buy school clothes for his daughter when he came across the older man.

“We were coming around the turn on Kelly’s Mountain, just passed the Englishtown turn-off and there was a grey minivan pulled over onto the side of the road,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous spot to pull over, so that’s why I genuinely thought there was something wrong.”

Cogan who works as a paramedic pulled over immediately to see if everyone was okay, as he thought there may have been an accident, since the man was waving frantically and their vehicle was pointed towards the ditch.

“When I looked back at the minivan, there was a young guy driving it, and what appeared to be a young boy in the back seat,” Cogan recalled. “He pretended to have an Italian accent, he came running up to me and he said ‘No gasoline, no gasoline, I need help, I need money.’”

Cogan advised the man he was willing to drive him into Baddeck to purchase gasoline, an offer in which the man declined as he noted a tow truck was en route with gas but needed to pay him in cash. The man then flashed Cogan a Visa card and claimed it wouldn’t be active for 24-hours.

“It was the first time in the history of my life that I actually had cash on me,” Cogan said. “And of course there’s cars blowing past us at 110km/h, he was frantic and he actually looked like he was about to cry.”

The man kept prodding Cogan by continuously offering him a gold ring that he claimed was 18-karats and to be worth upwards of $400.

“With a little boy in the back seat, I don’t know if my sympathy overruled my judgment or whatever the case may be, anyways I gave him $100 for gas,” Cogan said. “Then he’s like ‘Please a little more for food, I have to feed the boy,’ and then of course I felt bad because he didn’t have money for food, so than I gave him another $20.”

Cogan generously handed the man $120 out of his wallet that was intended to be purchase school clothes for his daughter, but for Cogan it was justifiable because he was helping someone in need.

It wasn’t until he arrived in Halifax that things started to feel off about his recent road-side interaction on Kelly’s Mountain. Cogan visited Halifax Gold Buyers to have the ring appraised and that’s when he found out he had been scammed and it was a fake.

“The guy testing the ring said he hoped I didn’t spend a lot of money on it as it was one of the best fakes he’d ever seen.”

On the side of the road, Cogan said he initially didn’t even want to take the ring to be honest, as it did in fact look like an expensive ring.

“And I can’t for the life of me think that that man would rip somebody off on a 100-series highway, on the side of the road like that,” he said. “I felt stupid – I just threw away $120. We work hard for our money and I was a tad bit embarrassed about it.”

As to whether a crime is being committed, Clarke said it really depends on the circumstances.

“If something is being misrepresented, then we might be looking at fraud or similar charges.”

The RCMP understands people want to be that person who helps another person out in need, but Clarke reminded that people should always use extreme caution.

“We’re not asking people to change that – we’re just warning people that these scams are out there and that they need to have this information in mind when offering assistance to strangers.”

Even though Cogan said he was raised to have an open heart and to be genuine to people, this interaction has jaded him and he’ll never give money to somebody on the side of the road again as long as he lives, even if they genuinely need it.

“It’s unfortunate because I don’t want to become like that,” Cogan said. “We can get past the $120. The biggest thing is I just don’t want to see it happen to somebody who doesn’t really have it to give, and be taken advantage of.”