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Zhi Gao, 22, pled guilty to a burglary attempt in scam involving senior woman. Screenshot/Fox5
Zhi Gao, 22, pled guilty to a burglary attempt in scam involving senior woman. Screenshot/Fox5
CitiesCrimeNewsSan Diego

Man pleads guilty to burglary attempt in scam involving senior

SAN DIEGO — A man who took part in scamming a 65-year-old San Diego woman out of more than $200,000 of her life savings pleaded guilty Feb. 28 to an attempted burglary count.

Zhi Gao, 22, was arrested last fall when he arrived at the woman’s door to pick up a package of cash, one of several she had handed over to scammers, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors say scammers manipulated the woman to make significant cash withdrawals from her bank and hand her money to Gao and his co-conspirators over several weeks.

Gao’s guilty plea includes an agreement to pay $30,000 in restitution to the victim, and in return, he will receive a time-served sentence with two years of probation.

During a news conference held last fall to announce the charges against Gao, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan said the scam began with a pop-up message that appeared on the woman’s computer. Believing that the message originated from Microsoft, she called a phone number displayed on the pop-up to receive help with her computer, which was frozen. The woman paid scammers $120 to fix her computer.

The scam later moved to a banking-related fraud, in which scammers pretended to be associated with Chase Bank. This time, they alleged that the bank had been alerted to fraud on her account. To protect her money, she would have to withdraw it from her account and hand it over to the co-conspirators “so that the money could be secured in a safe account while the fraud division investigated the case for her,” Stephan said.

The victim made multiple withdrawals ranging from $20,000 to $30,000 each time, the DA’s Office said, and gave the cash to couriers who showed up on her doorstep.

Her family eventually caught wind of the suspicious financial activity and contacted the police.

Gao was arrested during a sting operation in which he was due to pick up another $30,000 from the victim, prosecutors said.

Stephan said the scams employed in the case were among the most common perpetrated against seniors and it serves as “a compelling reminder to seniors and their families to be aware of the warning signs of a scam and reach out for help.”

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