DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - March 16, 2007

Beware the scam artists

Fake solicitors canvassing neighborhoods in Alamo and Danville

by Natalie O'Neill

College-aged scam artists posing as fundraisers targeted Danville and Alamo last week, asking for donations to help them go abroad, residents said.

A charismatic young woman in her early 20s claiming to be selling books to raise money for an internship at the British Broadcasting Corp. went door to door, while a young man claimed to need money for a rugby tournament in New Zealand.

"If you come across a person like this, raising money for an exotic trip - watch out," said Alamo resident Rebecca Snyder, who fell for the scam last year while living in San Jose.

Last year, she donated $60 to help a young man who said he was raising money for a baseball trip to Australia through San Jose State University. But when she called the school, they said they had no such team or fundraiser.

"They were really likable, personable young people so I never questioned it. But this time I was ready for them," she said.

When the young woman approached her in Alamo, she told her she was duped the year before and wasn't going to fall for it again. The solicitor then became flustered and left, Snyder said.

Alamo Deputy Elmer Glasser said he discourages writing checks and giving cash on the spot to solicitors.

"(If you want to donate) you can call the organization and verify later, then donate over the phone after you've looked into it," he said.

The scammers also tried to con Channing Salamera, who lives in the Danville Oaks neighborhood. Salamera said she knew something wasn't right when a young man with an athletic build and a shaved head rang her doorbell and asked her to donate money - without having any information or materials to back up his request.

"He had nothing in his hands. He was so nice ... but I still thought it was sort of fishy," Salamera said.

The young man appeared to be about 19 years old, was about 5 feet 8, and told Salamera he went to high school in Danville.

In Contra Costa County, door-to-door solicitors must have a solicitor's permit and photo identification unless they are collecting money for a nonprofit organization. Even nonprofit fundraisers must carry proper documentation and a picture ID.

Residents should ask to see a copy of a county solicitor's permit when approached by questionable solicitors and report suspicious persons to the county dispatch, Glasser said.

Similar cases were reported three weeks ago in Sacramento when "student" scammers, who claimed to attend Sacramento State University, manipulated residents out of money for more fake school trips overseas. The university got wind of the phony fundraisers when donors called them to ask if the trip was on.

Victims of the scam have typically not lost more than $60-$100 but there are more serious drawbacks to having illegitimate solicitors on your property.

"Residential burglars often put themselves out as solicitors and take it as an opportunity to look inside a house," Glasser said.

He noted that he has seen cases where people posing as solicitors were invited into the home and then used it as a chance to scope out the house layout, then map a quick burglary.

If you write a check to illegitimate organizations you take other risks as well, Glasser said.

"They can get your name, address and bank information from the check. Then they can jump on the Internet and steal your identity," he said.

Residents who think they may have been a victim of the scam can contract the sheriff's dispatch at 646-2441 with any information.

"I don't like to see people getting taken advantage of," Snyder said.

Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com

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