Gas station clerk awarded for helping save elderly woman from scammers

Sep 9, 2023, 12:12 AM | Updated: 10:48 am

PARK CITY, Utah — A gas station clerk is recounting the moment he helped stop an elderly woman from an elaborate scam that nearly cost her thousands out of her savings. The clerk also credits a key customer of his for stopping the scam in its tracks.

At the Kimball Junction Chevron, whatever kinds of yummy snacks end up on the counter, chances are Edgar De La Merced knows the customer who is paying.

A man walked up to the counter Friday afternoon, and De La Merced started smiling.

“Long time, no see!” he said enthusiastically. The two began laughing and fist-bumped each other. “No, it’s been a while,” the customer replied.

While those kinds of interactions are the norm, a couple days prior on Tuesday, De La Merced saw a woman in her 70s walk in who he hadn’t seen before.

He said she was talking on the phone.

“She was on speaker phone, and getting instructions on what to do with the Bitcoin machine,” he explained.

Even if didn’t know her, Edgar knew something was off.

He asked a customer to ask her what she was doing. The woman told the other customer she was on the phone with her son. However the “son,” De La Merced explained, sounded much younger than someone who would be the son of a woman in her 70s. He also noticed the voice had a foreign accent, which also didn’t seem like he’d be the woman’s son.

De La Merced could hear the man giving the woman instructions on how to use the Bitcoin machine, and to turn her camera on so he could see what she was seeing.

“I knew for sure that she was being scammed,” he said.

As the elderly woman, holding a huge stack of cash, tried to navigate the machine, guided by the mysterious voice, Edgar told himself he needed to do something.

“Before she puts in the money, I will stop her no matter the consequences,” he said.

Right as he got ready to step in before she deposited the cash, coincidentally, one of De La Merced’s loyal customers stepped up to the register to pay.

That customer was Summit County Sheriff Frank Smith.

“I told him, ‘Sheriff, that lady behind you is getting scammed,'” De La Merced recounted. “Because the sheriff paid here, and the lady was just behind him… So, he intervened.”

The sheriff stopped the scammers from swindling the woman out of thousands of dollars. Sergeant Skyler Talbot with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office explained that they figured out that the woman got an email claiming to be from PayPal. She called a number and thought she was talking to their fraud department.

“They then transferred her to who she thought was her bank’s own fraud protection,” Sgt. Talbot explained. “And it’s through the course of about 5 hours, they were able to manipulate her using various scare tactics and convinced her to withdraw $15,000.”

The sheriff and another deputy brought the woman back to her bank to deposit the money she withdrew.
Sgt. Talbot said it’s likely the woman would have never seen that money again if she deposited it into the Bitcoin machine.

That $15,000 is now safely back in her bank account, and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office awarded Edgar with an Outstanding Citizen’s Certificate.

“It’s just such a great example of people in our community doing the right thing, observing that, ‘Hey, this isn’t right,” Sgt. Talbot said.

The scheme was foiled, thanks to Sheriff Smith’s chance snack break, and Edgar’s vigilant eye.

“This old lady is like, so trusting, and it’s just… not on my watch,” De La Merced said. “If I hear it, I’ll stop it.”

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Gas station clerk awarded for helping save elderly woman from scammers