VAUGHAN, Ont.: Gypsy family charged in necklace scam
Certain criminals have no scruples.
That includes an accented woman who approached Franco Gangari, a 74-year-old Woodbridge man in his garage as he sat peacefully with his wife and his neighbour, 81.
After being approached by the female dressed in traditional Romani clothing, he was presented with a bogus story as a way to strike up a conversation about directions.
Once there was a bit of trust gained, the woman offered her gratitude by putting cheap necklaces around both senior citizens’ necks.
It was only after the woman quickly left that the unsuspecting victims realized their cherished gold necklaces were gone and all they were left with was the knockoff given to them.
Gargari’s lost necklace was particularly special to him.
“My family bought it for me in Italy,” he said through a translator.
He now worries about the loss and feels less safe in his Woodbridge home.
“I feel sick about it,” he added, estimating the necklace was worth hundreds of dollars.
In Vaughan alone there have been 35 distraction-style thefts reported this year, according to police.
In each case the technique used was similar, a trick Europeans, where the scammers hail from, are well aware of.
Police say the suspects approach the victims with a distraction, such as asking for directions, before giving the person a hug or putting a necklace around their necks as a “gift”. It is at that point, with a quick slight of hand, that the victim’s jewelry is removed.
Today, police released surveillance video of one such incident that took place in the area of Via Campanile and La Rocca Avenue, in Vaughan.
After taking the woman’s necklace, the perpetrator is seen leaving in a white, four-door Jeep Wrangler.
This is not the first time incidents such as this have been reported in York Region.
In July 2013, there were eight cases of thefts from homes after people walked from door-to-door trying to gain access to more affluent houses by simply trying doorknobs.
If unlocked and the perpetrators encountered someone, an excuse about trying to find a lost puppy was used.
Otherwise, they would quickly head into the home and grab anything available, from jewelry to cash.
The value of stolen goods range in value from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, said York Regional Police Det. Sgt. John Boothby.
Gargari was not the only man willing to admit he was taken in the scam.
Gianfranco Giordano was also scammed as he left the FreshCo at Weston Road and Major Mackenzie Drive in Vaughan.
While walking out of the shop, his cane in one hand and his groceries in the other, he noticed two people in a Toyota Matrix staring at him. As he approached his car a woman, again in traditional Romani garb, approached him pleading that he direct her to the hospital.
After he explained how to get there, the woman appeared to become more desperate, asking if he was Italian and then speaking in a broken tongue to him.
“I was worried for this woman. I wanted to help her,” he said.
Once the interaction was complete, she approached Giordano with a necklace.
“I said ‘no’ but she insisted, plus I had both hands full,” he added.
It didn’t take long for him to realize the 18 carat necklace he had been wearing since 1982, complete with three charms, had been taken.
“It’s one of those things that you give yourself guilt thinking, ‘How could I have been so stupid?'” he said. “My father always taught us that if you learn something from a negative experience, it’s not bad. Well, I learned not to trust people. I am always thinking about it. That necklace and those charms are things that were mine and now they’ve been taken away.”
He called the culprits “cowards”, adding he has no sympathy for those who take advantage of the elderly or disabled.
“These people have no scruples, no morals,” he added.
Police have said if there were 35 incidents reported, the number of actual thefts is likely much higher.
Instances of Romani people being implicated in crimes such as these have been plentiful in Caledon, Nottawasaga and Durham and Halton regions.
In Durham last year, police busted an international Romani crime ring, laying 263 charges, identifying more than 400 people involved and seizing $85,000 in merchandise, according to Durham police.
Investigators identified several different scams used to gain jewelry and bank cards, including street and store distraction thefts.
Another scam involved telling people a family member was in need of money.
Const. Andy Pattenden said people who commit crimes of this nature are often very mobile and may visit a location one day or more before moving on, meaning trends in their movements and locations are hard to track.
Among those charged are three Markham residents, a mother, 38, father, 42, and son, 18.
The victims were all 75 or older.
Meanwhile, police are asking residents to conceal their jewelry in public and be cautious when engaging with people that attempt to make contact in public.