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Door-to-door fraudsters steal local nonprofit’s identity

Door-to-door fraudsters steal local nonprofit’s identity

(Originally published in the San Diego Reader December 10, 2014.)

Around 7:00 p.m. on a Thursday evening in October, San Diego resident J. Turco opened his front door to a man selling candy on behalf of a youth organization. When Turco turned down the candy but offered two dollars, the man took the money and complained that six dollars would have been better. Annoyed, Turco asked for his money back. The man returned the two dollars but then called Turco an “asshole,” threatened him, and refused to leave his property. Turco called 911, and less than an hour later, after the man had gone, Turco sent an email to Second Chance, the organization the man claimed to represent.

Turns out, not only does Second Chance not employ door-to-door solicitors, but the organization has been plagued by similar complaints for years. The complaints have come from locals as well as people living outside of San Diego.

In early August this year, Henry and Elaine Lucas (not their real names) answered the door to their home in Chico when a man came soliciting donations for “Second Chance.” The organization, he said, helped formerly incarcerated men and women prepare for and find jobs. The Lucases were hesitant about making a donation until the man showed them a check that one of their neighbors had written. They wrote the man a $20 check. A few days later, they saw that their check had been deposited to a San Diego bank, but it had been altered. Someone wrote the name “Earl” on the memo line. Concerned about the practice of altering checks, the Lucases sent an email through the contact submission form on the website of the Second Chance program here in San Diego.

The subject line read: “Door to door solicitation — addition to check sent!!”

Trisha Gooch, the director of development at Second Chance, had to respond the way she’s had to dozens of times in the two and a half years that she’s been with the organization:

“This gentleman did not represent Second Chance. Unfortunately, this is not the first example of fraudulent fundraising we have heard about. We’ve been plagued for the last couple of years with this issue…. Unless the man showed you a 501(c)(3) federal tax document verifying they have a nonprofit named Second Chance…I suggest you put a stop payment on the check.”

Before that, on May 26, Gooch fielded another inquiry, this one from a woman who wrote, “I had a visitor at my door a couple of days ago selling candy bars as a fundraiser for your organization. He briefly flashed a printout of a web page (probably) tucked on the bottom of his plastic, semi-translucent box. He asked for $20 for a pair of candy bars. When I asked him how I could be assured that my money went to the organization, he said he would give me a receipt. He then produced a receipt book that can be purchased at any office supply store.…Was this man a fraud or was he an unsuccessful legitimate fundraiser?”

In the six months prior, Gooch received emails from Castro Valley, North Park, Torrey Highlands, and Tacoma, Washington, among others. Each time, the door-knocker had a different name, different story, and a different selling tactic.

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