PUYALLUP, Wash. (KCPQ) — Puyallup police are warning of a diamond scheme targeting Latinos after a woman shopping at the South Hill Mall said a group of three forced her to hand over hundreds of dollars for a fake diamond.
A shopping trip to the South Hill Macy's turned into a nightmare for Mirna Sanchez, who says the whole thing started when a man came up to her asking for directions in Spanish.
"He showed me an address on a piece of paper and asked me if I knew where that was located," Sanchez said in Spanish while sharing her story at the Puyallup Police Department.
Sanchez said the man started to chat with her in Spanish and then tried to sell her a diamond for $1,000.
Sanchez said she refused and told the man she wasn't interested and didn't have that kind of money.
"After they started chatting me, I don't remember what happened. Everything was a blur, but I remember another woman coming over to join the conversation. Now, I know it was his accomplice," added Sanchez.
That's when she says she got concerned because they told her she needed to come up with $500 and told her not do anything because she was being watched.
"When he came back he said I need $500 and I don't know how you're going to do it but you have to give it," said Sanchez.
Puyallup police said the group was made up of two men and a woman who were all caught on surveillance video.
"They were relentless and threatening behavior and saying we need you to provide this money for us," said Puyallup Police Capt. Scott Engle.
Sanchez said she feared for her life and was so scared she complied with their demands.
She said they went with her as she withdrew $500. They, in turn, left her with a fake diamond.
"Our detectives discovered this scheme ... had happened up and down the I-5 corridor," added Engle.
Police believe the same group was caught on camera doing the same thing in Lacey last month.
"It appears they're targeting Hispanic citizens as victims. All of these incidents, they've been targeting them to buy a diamond ring that is anything other than a diamond ring," added Engle.
Police believe this same group is behind a similar scheme that happened in Beaverton, Oregon, in 2013 and believe similar cases have been reported as far back as 2008.
While Sanchez is out the $500, she says from now on she will avoid small talk with strangers.
"I want this to serve as an example to other people that they shouldn't chat with others they don't know in the stores," said Sanchez.
Police say everyone out shopping should always be aware of who they interact with out in public.
RELATED: Here's how to avoid scams on Facebook:
How to avoid Facebook phishing scams
How to avoid Facebook phishing scams
1. Exercise common sense
Why is somebody offering you something that costs them money to purchase - and to market - for free? Does there seem to be a legitimate reason for the offer? What value does the party giving away the object receive in return? Does that value warrant giving away the object - or is the offer simply too good to be true? As you probably learned as a child - "don't take candy from strangers."
2. Consider how much is being given away
Legitimate giveaways done for marketing purposes are typically inexpensive items, downloadable materials, or extremely small quantities of expensive items to a small percentage of sweepstakes winners selected from a targeted group; any offer that claims to be giving away large numbers of expensive items should raise a red flag as doing so rarely makes sense from a business standpoint, especially if the offer is being promoted to the general public on social media.
(Adam Gault via Getty Images)
3. Check if a page is verified
Most major businesses are verified (with a white check on a blue circle - some small businesses have similar marks that are white on gray), so if an offer is ostensibly coming from a large business and the page from which it is being posted is not verified, that may signal problems. Not all businesses are verified; if you see a post from a business that is not verified, however, you can search on the business's name and see if there is a verified account for the business - if there is, you know that the unverified account is likely fake.
Legitimate sweepstakes and giveaways always have some sorts of "fine print" associated with them - if there are no "Offer Details," "Terms and Conditions," or the like, consider a huge red flag to have been raised.
(Reptile8488 via Getty Images)
5. Look for signs of an unprofessional post
Spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, misuse of idioms, writing that appears to have been auto-translated or written without knowledge of "how people speak," or photos that don't seem to match the post are all red flags. Do you really think a major firm running a marketing campaign doesn't check its content before posting it on Facebook?
(Just One Film via Getty Images)
6. Check the page's age and what appeared on it prior to the questionable post
it is a bad sign if a page was created right before an offer post was made. Of course, criminals know that people look out for page age - so they may create pages and post for a while before using the page for scams. So look out for what content was shared before? Does it make sense coming from the business? Do the comments on those posts make sense? Often there are giveaways on such pages that something is amiss.