“Just say no, walk away”: Fake gold jewelry scammers target people near I-5 again

Update 9:30 p.m.: KIRO-7 viewers reported a similar situation where a family in a new SUV was approaching people, offering gold jewelry for cash in Tumwater near I-5 Friday, March 5.

Our KIRO-7 cameras were rolling on another assignment in Federal Wa when we met Neal Lanctot as he was approached by a new SUV with a Tennessee license plate, driven by a well-dressed man with a family, offering Neal a gold ring — right off his finger. “Somebody tried to scam me,” he said.

Lanctot had just been the target of a fake jewelry scam right in front of our cameras. When the driver saw us recording him, he sped away through the crowded parking lot.

What happened was clearly the same fake jewelry ploy reported since 2018 from California to Canada.

Police say typically a well-dressed family with small children in an expensive rental car will look desperate, flagging down people on the sides of freeways with stories about their money and credit cards being stolen. They’re stranded, they say, and they offer real-looking jewelry — often rings, necklaces and watches they’re wearing — for cash.

“He needed money for something, gas I guess,” said Lanctot.

Washington State Patrol and law enforcement agencies along the I-5 corridor have repeated warnings. “This is still an ongoing problem,” said one tweet from the California Highway Patrol. “Disabled drivers flagging people down, professing to be in need of funds and willing to part with jewelry marked as 18K gold. If you find you’re in this circumstance, please call 911.”

Investigators say typically the gold-looking jewelry is stamped 18-karat gold, the buyers take the jewelry to get it appraised, and it turns out to be copper or brass.

“I’ve been hit by them before,” said Lanctot, who admitted giving cash to the same kind of scammer in Florida.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police issued the same warning: “Don’t fall for the fake gold scam,” after the same suspects arrested in western Washington were arrested there for pulling the same con game from Vancouver to Ontario.

In 2018 WSP investigators called the scheme part of an aggressive crime ring. Hundreds of victims are being duped by people in rental cars showing kids that often aren’t theirs and selling jewelry that’s not real gold.

“We’re talking anywhere from 4 to 10 thousand dollars at a time,” said Scott Genoway of the WSP.

“He looked super professional, businessman,” said Nicole Lewis in 2018, after she bought the ploy from a family who flagged her down on the side of the freeway. “He had a nice car, nicely dressed he had nice jewelry on. He was groomed well, smelled good, he really seemed genuine, almost desperate.”

From his experience, Neal has advice: “Sayno,’ walk away,” he said.