When tickets for a local church’s barbecue/chicken plate fundraiser were being offered to several downtown Clinton merchants last week, many gave toward the cause. While the church was real, the fundraiser was not.
The scam victimized a number of people at $6 per plate. And if that wasn’t enough, a female suspect was also taking up donations for UCare, the local shelter for domestic violence victims, if people wanted to give in that way. Still more money was given for that agency, none of which made it there.
A $6 check for a plate was also fraudulently converted to a $60 check before being cashed, according to initial reports.
“We are working a fraud case in which citizens purchased a fictitious chicken dinner ticket reportedly to be for a church fundraiser,” Clinton Police Chief Jay Tilley confirmed Wednesday.
So far, victims at Hi-Lites, Heatwave Hair and Tanning Salon, Vance Street Market and Taylor & Sanderson, all located on Vance Street, have come forward, reporting the incident to police.
According to information from victims, the female suspect was “very convincing,” explaining that a specific church in Salemburg was hosting the event for its at-home mission fundraiser, to benefit a local food bank. During a visit to the downtown last Thursday, she told them they could choose between barbecue and chicken and those plates would be delivered by the church youth the following day at lunch. They could also donate to UCare, money that would purchase toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant for domestic abuse victims suddenly displaced from their homes.
“They did their homework,” one of the victims stated.
The suspect even presented one of the supposed care packages, a small canister filled with the toiletries, to the victims so they could see it. UCare executive director Pamela Gonzalez took to the agency’s Facebook page this past weekend to warn people against the scam.
“Communications (911) called today asking if we have a church group going door to door to cars in parking lots in the Clinton area collecting money to benefit UCare,” Gonzalez wrote. “THIS IS A SCAM! If you are approached, please call 911 so police can stop them. Thank you!”
The female suspect also went so far as to give out receipts for donations. When Friday rolled around, one of the victims called when he didn’t get his lunch plate, leading to the police report.
Police officials said the incident could be connected to a similar scam in Bladen County, in which two people were arrested earlier this week. The couple were allegedly going door to door selling tickets for a plate sale from Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church and Bladen Crisis Assistance. Information about the scam was received not only from victims in Bladen, but would-be victims in Bladen, Pender and Robeson counties.
“We have two suspects that have been identified and we are looking into the connection with the Bladen County incidents,” Tilley stated. “We are anticipating arrests in this investigation.”
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