'Gold bar scam': Authorities warn of new con costing elderly victims millions

Investigators in Montgomery County say criminals have conned elderly victims out of millions of dollars by convincing them to convert their cash into gold bars.

One man was just arrested this week but authorities warn that more are likely out there.

The victim in this case was a 64-year-old woman living in Leisure World, which is a senior living community for those ages 55 and older.

Over the course of several weeks, police said a man named Wenhui Sun of California posed as a federal investigator and convinced the woman to convert $800,000 worth of assets into gold bars to protect her from identity thieves.

Wenhui Sun 

He then had her deliver it to him in a Walgreens parking lot near Leisure World, posing as a federal courier and stealing the gold.

Eventually, a relative of the victim became aware and notified authorities, who set up a sting and arrested Sun on Monday where he was allegedly set to collect another $376,000.

He's currently being held without bond in Montgomery County.

"Just heartbreak for people, innocent people with good intentions who get taken and get taken in a really bad way," said Ron Lyons, a Leisure World resident.

This cash-to-gold scam has become such a nationwide issue that the FBI even put out flyers to warn people not to fall victim because as wild as it sounds, people are getting conned and the numbers are staggering.

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From May to December last year, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center saw an uptick in these types of scams with losses over $55 million.

The reason scammers have switched from asking for straight cash or gift cards is because banks and retailers will alert customers if someone tries to take out a large sum of money.

That's not the case with these gold bullion websites: to them, thousands of dollars in a wire transfer just looks like a normal transaction.

And the FBI said the scammers are coaching the victims on exactly what to say to get their gold.

"People really need to be on guard. If you have an elder loved one, talk to them about this, spread the word, that's how we're going to combat this problem," said Keith Custer, FBI Supervisory Special Agent. "You really need to calm down, listen to what's being told to you, take a breath and don't act. Hang up the phone, talk to someone you trust."

Montgomery County State's attorney John McCarthy said that while one arrest is a start, there are reports of at least 12 victims in Montgomery County.

"These are not small dollar amounts. This particular case is deeply disturbing and we know that it's happening not only in Montgomery County once but a dozen times and literally across the country," McCarthy said.

McCarthy said Sun is currently being held without bond and it's not clear where the $800,000 in gold bars is, with fears that it may already be out of the country. The investigation is ongoing.

The FBI said these crimes are typically under-reported as many of those who lose money are too embarrassed to even tell anyone.

But nationally, Maryland is ranked sixth in the number of victims, and fifth for amount of losses.