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Bogus “student” scammers strike Auburn, Sacramento neighborhoods

Retired teacher asks questions; suspicious “Placer High Symphony” duo soon disappears
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A plea for funds to help the arts in cash-strapped schools is tough to turn down, especially for an ex-teacher who understands money is hard to come by for band or theater even in flush times. But retired teacher Jeff Fulweiler just said “no.” And then he phoned the Auburn Police. Something just didn’t ring true with the story two polite young men were telling on his doorstep Wednesday night. They said the money was being raised for the Placer High School Symphony Orchestra – a musical entity Fulweiler, who lives near the school, knew doesn’t exist. Fulweiler listened as they talked about books they were selling at different funding levels starting at $52 that could win them a trip to London. But as they talked, he started asking questions, dropping names of Placer High students he had taught in elementary school in Auburn that the duo said they didn’t know. As Fulweiler talked and queried, he watched their confidence diminish. “I could see the wind going out of their sails,” he said. They left, saying they were going to try next door. Fulweiler quickly contacted his next-door-neighbor but the two had already left in a different direction. A police car was soon cruising Fulweiler’s street but what were now two suspects in an apparent con had disappeared. Fulweiler theorizes they may be part of a more widespread, organized scam that has been reported this week in Sacramento and North Auburn, as well as in Auburn. California State University, Sacramento issued a warning Tuesday to alert residents that two young women posing as students from the Department of Theatre & Dance had been selling magazines “to win a trip to London.” That scam claims the department will use the proceeds to put on a production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” The two also reportedly claimed to be raising money for Shriners hospital. Shriners does not solicit funds in that matter and Sac State’s Theater & Dance Department is not sponsoring any trips to London or other places this summer, the university said. North Auburn resident Connie Kirchner reported a similar door-to-door scam attempt at her home Wednesday afternoon involving a woman in her early 20s. The woman asked her to support a Sacramento State theater group and mentioned the trip to London. But Kirchner said she already supported another organization. “She was nice but after that she wasn’t so nice,” Kirchner said. “I told her I was going to call Sac State because of her rudeness.” The call to the college revealed that the woman was not a legitimate fundraiser. Auburn Police Chief Valerie Harris said residents should take precautions when they answer the door or invite people in who say they are raising funds. One of the first and most important steps is to ask for credentials to verify they are fundraising for a legitimate charity, she said. One sign that a scam is in progress would be that the person won’t provide any of the paperwork he is showing to keep. Instead, they’ll say they only have the one copy, she said. The resident can also ask for a phone number to call or request a business card, Harris said. Scam attempts do happen fairly frequently in Auburn, she said. “If people have reason to suspect someone, they should call law enforcement so they can contact them to ensure they’re not casing a neighborhood looking for crimes of opportunity,” Harris said. Fulweiler said he contacted a Placer High music student to confirm no fund-raising involving a London trip was taking place. Now he thinks Auburn has been hit by an organized group that also worked Sacramento neighborhoods. “It seems like it’s very organized – they know what they’re doing,” he said. “It could have proved costly for someone who didn’t know what I knew and had money to spare. Fortunately, I knew too much.”