December 21, 2011

DFW authorities warn about door-to-door scams

Beware people who come knocking with their hands out this holiday season.

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

Beware people who come knocking with their hands out this holiday season.

Two investigators with the Tarrant County district attorney's office were hit up at home by apparent scam artists claiming that they were trying to help charities while raising money for schooling.

But their stories fell apart under questioning, prompting warnings from the district attorney's office to be careful about handing out money or checks during the holidays -- or anytime, for that matter.

The grifters appeared to be part of an organized group that swoops in on neighborhoods before moving on.

"He was very smooth, and it had a ring of truth," said Presley Darnell, a criminal investigator with the economics crime unit of the district attorney's office.

"I'm not saying every one of these is a scam, but certainly mine was because the guy was not who he pretended to be. My suggestion is, unless they're young children and you know the parents in the neighborhood, I'd be very careful."

Books for charity

Darnell said the young man, who said he was in his late 20s, approached his home in the Ridgmar neighborhood a few weeks ago. He said he was selling children's books to raise money to attend culinary school.

He ignored the "no solicitation" sign and said his father, a former Marine, lived a few blocks over. He even mentioned that his father's Great Dane annoyed the neighbors. He said that his father made him raise money for the school and that the father would call later to check up on him to be sure he was polite.

He even offered to arrange for the books to be donated directly to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth.

Darnell said he was almost sold on the deal when he asked for the young man's driver's license. When he couldn't produce it, then wouldn't give out his father's phone number, Darnell sent him packing.

It turns out the address he gave doesn't even exist, Darnell said.

Darnell called police, but they found no evidence of the man.

Officials with Cook Children's said such scams operate frequently throughout North Texas and are not affiliated with the hospital.

"We never sanction door-to-door solicitations on our behalf and have never endorsed door-to-door solicitations for the purchase of books," said Grant Harris, vice president of the Cook Children's Health Foundation.

Volleyball and magazines

On the same night as Darnell's encounter, another economic crimes investigator, Greg McNeese, heard a similar pitch from a woman who approached him after dark as he worked in the garage at his home in North Richland Hills.

The young woman, who appeared to be in her 20s, said she was selling magazines or bricks to raise money to attend volleyball camp. He'd gotten almost the same pitch just a few weeks earlier from a young woman in her 20s who said she was trying to raise money to stay in school.

"Don't you think it's a good idea for young people to stay in school?" she asked, according to McNeese.

"Both were slick, articulate," he said. "Both of them were very practiced at their dialogue."

McNeese was unimpressed, however, and sent them packing.

"You need to be very wary of the people who show up," he said. "There are plenty of deserving, worthwhile charities that you can be completely comfortable about without feeling like you need to be pressured into helping someone you're not sure about.

"We don't want to discourage people from helping out with the schoolchildren raising money for their school programs or Scouts, but people need to be careful."

Dianna Hunt, 817-390-7084

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