A particularly nasty scam attempting to cash in on the good name of the Salvation Army has taken hold in Meadville.
It goes something like this: A teenaged or young adult male knocks on a door, car window or approaches a pedestrian and explains that the Salvation Army will provide them with desperately needed significant financial help, but only if they can raise some cash of their own. This has happened at least five times since last week, the most recent on Thursday. Meadville police are currently looking for a white male, 5-feet 10-inches tall, about 19 or 20 years old, who is the suspect in the two incidents last week reported to the department. Those incidents took place on South Main Street and the area between Baldwin and Randolph streets, according to police Chief David Stefanucci. Capt. Robin Holmes, who heads the Salvation Army office in Meadville, has received five reports of these incidents.
“I don’t want people to be scammed,” Holmes said. “This is not how we operate. I don’t want the community to think that we are sending teenagers out to panhandle.”
The scam does try to take advantage of how the Salvation Army operates, however. Holmes explained that the Salvation Army does ask those it helps to also seek more help elsewhere, but never from individuals. They are directed to seek additional help from established social and service agencies only, Holmes stressed. She also said that the Salvation Army would not deal with requests for help from teenagers, only from their parents or guardians.
To add insult to injury, the scam comes at a time when the local Salvation Army is struggling with its own fundraising efforts. Last year’s red kettle holiday collection did not meet its goal, Holmes explained, and, as a result, finances are tight and planning for additional fundraisers through the year is intense.
Holmes said that anyone approached with the scam should not give any money but should get a description and, if possible, a picture of the scammer and contact Meadville police at 724-6100 or her office at 724-3738. “If you think it is suspicious, it probably is suspicious,” she said.
Chief Stefanucci said that anyone arrested for the scam would likely be charged with theft by deception. For this charge involving amounts of $50 or less, he said the minimum punishment upon conviction would be one to three years in jail. Sanctions would be higher for larger dollar amounts and for those with previous criminal convictions.
Pat Bywater can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.