OREM, Utah -- An Orem woman was scammed out of her life savings after she tried to help a woman who came to her in tears and played on their mutual heritage.
Maria Hernandez said she was shopping at the University Mall in Orem when she was approached by a Latina woman who told her a heartfelt story and asked for a loan. She said the woman spoke to her in Spanish, called her sister and said Hernandez should help since they came from the same place. Police said the woman told Hernandez the money was for medical bills.
"[She] gave her a sob story about her husband being in an accident and needing money for medical bills and being in financial hardship...and she asked our victim if she could help out," said Sgt. Craig Martinez, Orem Police Department.
The suspect offered Hernandez what she said were diamonds as collateral, and Hernandez said she agreed to help. The suspect followed her to a bank where she withdrew $8,000 and passed it a long, believing it to be the right thing to do. The suspect took Hernandez’s address and phone number and promised to pay her back that weekend.
Martinez said Hernandez started to question her actions and ended up calling the police, and they found the collateral the suspect provided was worthless.
"She started to think about what she'd just done, giving a complete stranger $8,000 of her own money for what she thought were real diamonds...obviously they weren't," he said.
Hernandez said the financial loss for her family is hard to bear, as the money was much of their life savings.
“We work hard, really hard...it's a long time we save this money,” she said.
Hernandez said she hopes telling her story will help spare other potential victims from losing money to the suspect.
“Maybe I don't get my money back, but I don't like more people same as me...I'm really scared," she said.
Martinez said it’s possible the suspect will try the scam again on someone else.
“When it works once they keep trying, even if it takes several weeks for them to find another victim that will be willing to give them money," he said.
Martinez said they have good images, see below, of the suspect from the bank’s security cameras, and they ask anyone with information about the suspects to contact police at 801-229-7070. The suspect is described as a Latina woman about 5-feet-5inches tall.