By Andrea Botham
The doorbell rang at a Brookhaven Fields home in the early evening last month, and when Alison Mueller went to answer it, she came face to face with a twentysomething man who could have been the boy next door.
“He said his mother lived around the corner and told me his name. I didn’t recognize the name, but we continued to talk, and at first his story seemed believable. Later we found out that he didn’t live where he said he did,” Mueller said.
It was only after she requested that he leave a tax ID number and some printed information about the baseball team for which he was trying to raise money that it became clear he was a scam artist, simply trying to get money for a championship game that didn’t exist.
Several Brookhaven families have been approached the past month by people posing as neighbors asking for donations to help their sports team make a championship game.
The DeKalb County Police Department is reiterating the need for residents to be cautious before giving money to door-to-door solicitors.
According to DeKalb ordinances, anyone soliciting must have a valid solicitor’s permit, and residents should ask to see it if anyone comes to the door asking for money.
Religious organizations are the only exemptions to the ordinance.
Police representative Al Fowler encourages Brookhaven residents to make it clear that solicitors are not welcome in their neighborhood.
“Obviously we don’t want to discourage the local Girl Scouts, but communities should have signage in the front of neighborhoods that say ‘no soliciting,’ discouraging people from doing so,” he said.
Stephanie McGarity, who runs a crime report in Brookhaven, said this is not the first such scam in the area. “Several people over the years come to Brookhaven, collecting money for soccer teams to travel to England. Often they find a last name in someone’s mailbox, take that name on as their own, and neighbors who may have heard that name before believe them,” she said. “People have a hard time saying no to neighbors.”
“The guy who knocked on our door looked like anyone who lives in the neighborhood, and for a few minutes I believed his story about his need to raise money for his baseball team to make a national championship game,” a Brookhaven Fields resident said. “It was only after the championship location changed during our conversation from Nevada to Hawaii that I realized that the facts didn’t add up and this didn’t seem legit.”
A young man approached another homeowner and said he was trying to raise money to help his theater group travel overseas and needed the money that day. Asked for identification, he became angry and left.
Both Fowler and Interactive Community Policing Officer Christopher Kim said the first step to preventing phony solicitors from succeeding is to trust your instincts.
“If you are ever in doubt, call the police. This is what I always remind people. This is what the police are here for,” Kim said. He said that in a situation in which someone is at your door and you feel uncomfortable, you can call 911 or the nonemergency number, 404-294-2911, but the only way for the police to know the scam is going on and to stop it is for people to report it.
Fowler agreed and reminded residents to “ask to see their permit. They should have one, and it should be presented upon request.”