Melbourne woman Inga, who did not want her surname published, said she was in Southland shopping centre in Cheltenham about 7pm on February 14 when an elderly woman approached her speaking Russian.
“She held my hand and start to say, ‘You have some problems, you have something bad’. She held my two hands and looked in my eyes and straight away I’m dizzy,” Inga said.
“She said ‘can you take your glasses off’ … and telling me, ‘You have troubles in your family … and I will help you but you need money. How much money is in the car? How much at home?’. I said, ‘I don’t have much’.”
The elderly woman told Inga to go home, accompanied by her younger associate and bring back all her valuable items wrapped in a black scarf. Inga collected some jewellery and some money and brought it back to the shopping centre.
The woman prayed over the package and then told her not to open it for 40 days. When Inga later opened the wrapped-up scarf, it was full of black stones and her belongings were gone.
“After 40 days I opened and saw stones … [I felt] empty,” she said. “But I believe people, that’s my problem.”
A friend told Inga to report the incident to police. She also posted a warning on Facebook and found that other people said similar things had happened to them.
Inga said she wanted to speak out to stop the offenders targeting the elderly and vulnerable.
Detectives from the Port Phillip criminal investigation unit have also spoken to another victim, who had valuables stolen after the conwomen approached her on the street in St Kilda on February 17.
A third woman has told investigators she was approached by a group of women in a similar scenario in South Melbourne on March 11. On that occasion, the offenders weren’t able to steal anything.
Investigators believe the scammers are targeting older women from Eastern Europe and have released images of three women they believe could assist with their inquiries. They are believed to be aged in their mid-50s to 70s.
Detective Senior Constable James Bartholomeusz said he believed there are more victims and have encouraged them to come forward.
“It’s very wrong, it’s targeting people during already difficult times and stealing and taking all their valuables,” he said.
Anyone with information that could assist police is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential report online at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au
Simone is a crime reporter for The Age. Most recently she covered breaking news for The Age, and before that for The Australian in Melbourne.