Senior speaks out after falling prey to ‘evil’ fraudster in grocery store lot

A retired teacher is warning Manitobans about a “despicable” sob story scam, after he was conned by two adults posing as desperate and penniless with two young children.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/04/2022 (306 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A retired teacher is warning Manitobans about a “despicable” sob story scam, after he was conned by two adults posing as desperate and penniless with two young children.

Winnipegger Gene Kirichenko, who lost $600 to the fraudsters, said he only believed the bogus tale spun by a man and a woman because children were with them.

The children were instructed to say “thank you” to Kirichenko when he agreed to hand over money outside a Real Canadian Superstore in St. Vital.

Gene Kirichenko only believed the bogus tale spun by a man and a woman because children were with them. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

“Who would have ever predicted little kids would be used in that kind of scam? I never thought people would be that evil or sink that low,” said Kirichenko, 71, who reported the incident to Winnipeg police. “If these two kids were not in the back seat, I would not have gone along with this. That set a tone of credibility.”

He suspects there are other victims of the fraud, which involves fake gold. A St. Vital jewelry store manager is aware of older Winnipeggers being targeted by the scam or others like it.

Kirichenko was pushing a shopping cart toward the Superstore at St. Anne’s Road and Fermor Avenue when a blue vehicle pulled up next to him at about 11:30 a.m. on March 25.

A man was driving, a woman was in the front passenger seat and two kids, who appeared to be about three to five years old, were in the back.

The man lowered his window and praised Kirichenko’s hat, which had “Ukraine” on the front of it. The pair introduced themselves using first names Kirichenko can only assume were fake.

The man shook the Winnipegger’s hand and made small talk before claiming he was in dire straits. He told Kirichenko the family had no money to travel back to Toronto because someone had stolen their cash and credit cards.

The man begged Kirichenko for help, initially asking for $1,000. The man offered the chain around his neck and a ring he was wearing as collateral, and put them in the unsuspecting victim’s hands.

When Kirichenko said he’d like to help but collateral wasn’t necessary, the man took off a second ring and gave it to him. The man promised to repay the money once the family returned home.

“I would say he was an accomplished actor,” said Kirichenko. “Everything was very smooth.”

The group portrayed itself as an immigrant family in need, which spurred Kirichenko’s desire to help. He thought of the help his Ukrainian parents needed when they arrived in Canada from Europe in 1950 while escaping Soviet repatriation.

Kirichenko, who was a year old back then, recently self-published a book called Maya’s Memories about his mother’s life under Soviet and Nazi rule.

He offered to lend $600 to the couple, who thanked him repeatedly. The woman sat next to him in his car, as he drove to a credit union to withdraw cash.

A man in a car begged Kirichenko for help and offered the chain around his neck and two rings he was wearing as collateral. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

The man and children followed behind in the blue vehicle. Kirichenko said the vehicle’s licence plates were dirty, and he didn’t think to take down the details.

He gave his phone number to the man and woman, who told him they would repay the loan the following Monday — March 28 — and send someone to get the jewelry.

Kirichenko started to suspect something wasn’t right when he phoned a Toronto number the couple gave him, but no one answered his calls or returned his messages.

“On one hand, I’m really embarrassed. On the other hand, I was tricked, and I want the public to know about this scam,” he said.

Realizing it was a con, Kirichenko took the chain and rings to Visions of Gold, a St. Vital jeweller, to find out if they were real gold. He was told the jewelry was fake.

A manager, who gave her name as Nicole, said “many” scam victims have sought appraisals of “worthless” chains and rings given to them by con artists in St. Vital parking lots.

“It’s always older people, elderly people,” she said of the victims. “(The scammers) know who they’re targeting.”

Multiple victims have recounted stories of being approached by a man and woman with children, said Nicole.

Some victims have reported being duped out of up to $1,000, she said.

“Every couple of months someone comes in here to get (jewelry) checked,” she said. “It’s the exact same pieces. As soon as they pull it out, I know it’s not real. They all have a different tone. It’s costume jewelry with a (carat) stamp on it.”

She described the scheme as “horrible and disgusting.”

“I feel so sad for the people this happens to,” said Nicole.

Kirichenko took the chain and rings to a jeweller to find out if they were real gold. He was told the jewelry was fake. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Jay Murray said fake gold scams have been around for years. Members of the financial crimes unit were not available Friday to confirm how many reports they’ve received recently, he said.

Police urge people to use caution if someone approaches them in a public place and asks for money or offers gold.

Kirichenko said a Superstore manager told him a woman holding a sign, which had a message seeking help, was asked to leave the parking lot the previous week.

An employee followed the woman, and saw her get into a blue vehicle, which was occupied by a man and two small kids, Kirichenko said he was told.

In an email, a spokesperson for Loblaw, which owns the Superstore chain, said the company, based in Brampton, Ont., is aware of the incident in which Kirichenko was targeted.

“We haven’t received any other reports or complaints from customers related to this issue,” the spokesperson said.

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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