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WALDO CANYON FIRE: Tragedy draws scammers

By: JOHN SCHROYER
June 28, 2012
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The Red Cross has set up multiple shelters across the region to help residents evacuated by the Waldo Canyon fire. And now it seems that impersonators are capitalizing on the organization’s good name, trying to swindle people up and down the Front Range by soliciting donations.

“We’re getting numerous emails and phone calls from citizens saying they’re getting these phone calls, and obviously they’re just scams,” said Carol O’Dell, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado.

“They’re saying they’re going to fund the Red Cross. Right. They’re funding their own pocket,” O’Dell said angrily.

O’Dell said they’ve heard from citizens who say they’ve gotten both automated calls and from live people. Sallie McInnis, in Pueblo, got a robo-call Thursday morning from an unlisted phone number in Albuquerque, New Mexico, asking for her credit card number.

“It was an automated call that was expressing concern for the victims of the fire, and they wanted you to make a donation,” said McInnis. “In exchange you’d get a little rubber bracelet, and all your donations would go to the Red Cross and relief efforts.”

McInnis said she kept hitting 1 and 0, trying to get to a live operator, and she couldn’t reach one. The robo-call just kept saying the donation would go to the Red Cross, and asking for a donation. Finally, she hung up.

“It just didn’t sound right. It truly sounded morbid,” McInnis said.

The BBB said that the local Red Cross chapter does not solicit donations by phone, through door-to- door representatives or via e-mail and urged donors to visit pparc.org.

Catherine Barde, a spokeswoman for the local Red Cross chapter, said she hadn’t heard about the scam McInnis reported to the Better Business Bureau, and that she was concentrating on helping evacuees.

“We have been managing all of the residents who have been coming in to the shelter, and we’re just taking care of what we do, making sure that the residents are being taken care of,” Barde said.

Barde said she’s grateful to groups like the BBB that chase down those who set up scams.
Attorney General John Suthers said such scams aren’t just typical for disasters like the Waldo Canyon Fire — they’re to be expected.

“It’s behavior we see in virtually every tragedy. If it’s something that tugs at peoples’ heart strings, these fraudsters will take advantage of it,” said Suthers.

Suthers said plenty of people scam for a living, preying on sympathetic souls who want to lend a hand. Over the years, Suthers said he’s prosecuted “hundreds” of such criminals.

“These are folks who travel around the country, from tragedy to tragedy, hail storm to fire, and exploit people,” he said. “It’s rampant.”

Suthers warned that residents should be wary of home repair scammers who offer special deals and then abscond with their payment, without doing any work.

O’Dell said the BBB often works with the District Attorney’s office, the Attorney General, and the Colorado Springs Police Departmentto pursue scammers.

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