The thieves didn't use a gun or a threat. Maria Del Rio said they were clever con artists. With tears and trickery, they used her good will and caring heart against her, she said.
The 86-year-old grandmother said she was shopping at the Big Lots at 2100 SW 27 Ave., near Coral Gables and Little Havana. A man approached her politely Oct. 24. In Spanish, he asked if she knew where there was a money lending business.
The man also approached a woman -- who Del Rio later realized was part of the plot and was posing as a shopper. He told both of them that he was an undocumented migrant. Although Del Rio has never been undocumented, the Cuban grandmother knows the difficulties that come with being an immigrant. She also has a son.
He "took out a little lottery ticket," she said.
When Del Rio saw him in tears, she was convinced. He said he had won the lottery and knew of a company that would help him cash the ticket, but they required a percentage of the winnings. He needed to borrow $17,000. In turn, he would give her some of the cash.
The Federal Trade Commission, the nation's consumer protection agency, has warned about these type of lottery scams and advance-fee fraud. But Del Rio didn't imagine these two people knew each other.
Surveillance video showed otherwise. Detectives were searching for a man who is about 5 feet 7 inches tall, and weighs about 160 pounds, and a woman who is about 5 feet 4 inches tall. They both appeared to be in their 30s or 40s.
Del Rio trusted them. She went home to pick up $2,000 in cash and drove to a Bank of America branch to make a $15,000 withdrawal. When the man said he was feeling sick, they persuaded her to leave the cash in the car and walk inside the Big Lots to get him a Tylenol.
When she walked out of the store with Tylenol in hand, they were both gone. She said she felt like fool and her relatives were surprised, because they said she is still sharp as a tack. Detectives believe the scam artists have experience.
"It took her a long time to make that money, if not most of her life," her son said. "She is very ashamed of what happened."
Miami detectives were asking anyone with information about the couple to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-8477.