Kids’ scam a lesson for all residents, police chief says

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Few can resist the innocent face of a child asking for a donation to a worthy cause.

Among those generous individuals, one retired Hillsboro resident didn’t turn down two children’s pleas for money the last Sunday in September.

Unfortunately, she’s now $5 poorer and apparently the victim of the young scam artists.

Asking to remain anonymous, the retiree said, “I’m glad it was just $5. I don’t want my name in the paper. If people find out that my vision is impaired, I might be taken advantage of some more.”

On the afternoon of Sept. 26, a boy about the age of 10 and a girl about the age of 12 came to her home on the West B Street and asked for money.

Both wearing T-shirts, the boy had short-cropped hair, and the girl had longer blond hair. They were appeared to be brother and sister.

“They didn’t look like bums,” the retiree said. “When I went to the door, they told me they were collecting for the library reading services and also so they could have field trips for the school.”

Asked if the money collected was for the Hillsboro school system, the young boy hesitated and looked at the girl, who nodded affirmatively.

“At first, I thought I’d give them $20,” the retiree said. “But I thought, ‘No, if they’re collecting, I’m going to have two grandsons coming around.’ So I just gave them $5.”

The boy handed the money over to the girl, who put it in a plastic sack. They turned around and left.

“I was waiting for them to look at my address and write something down,” she said. “But they mumbled, ‘Thank you,’ and they ran off. I closed the door and called my daughter, because I thought, ‘This is stupid.'”

Her daughter told her no information had come home from her children regarding any recent fund-raisers at Hillsboro Elementary School.

“A friend told me to call the school on Monday, but I can’t read the phone book,” the retiree said. “She said she’d call, and she called all three schools.”

The friend was told no students in the Hillsboro school system were authorized to go around door-to-door asking for donations of money.

The retiree did not report the incident to the Hillsboro Police Department.

Police Chief Dan Kinning said one of the first things to do in a case like this is call the school to verify it is having a fund-raiser.

“If (the students) don’t have any verification on them for the program they’re collecting for, (the adult) can call the school,” Kinning said.

“The only problem is, a lot of times, this may happen after school. If they are suspicious, my advice would be-if they can’t verify it that day, then any legitimate organization will take a donation at a later time.”

In the majority of cases, most legitimate organizations involved in fund-raisers will have flyers to hand out or an order form to leave.

Door-to-door solicitors in the residential area of the city are required to obtain a peddler’s license at city hall. Schools and charities are exempt, Kinning said. And solicitors working within the business district are also exempt.

“If anybody is going door-to-door around town, we usually get a phone call,” Kinning said. “Most people are really good about calling that in.”

Kinning offered the following tips to know how to handle children coming door-to-door asking for donations:

— If they children are younger than middle-school age, they should be accompanied by an adult.

— Ask for paperwork to verify the program they’re representing.

— The children should be able to tell the donor the specific organization involved and the purpose of the fund-raiser.

“Normally, those fund-raisers don’t usually ask for money unless it’s something like the yearbook,” Kinning said. “Most of the time, they’ll sell items, like fruit or candy bars.

“Two little kids coming up to your door asking for money for the school would be very suspicious. I’ve never known the grade school to do something like this.”

— If the solicitation appears suspicious, call the police.

“We tend to be very trusting in this community,” Kinning said. “We don’t suspect people doing things like this, but there are people among us who will take advantage of us.”

Calling the police immediately will allow them to investigate while the solicitors are still in the neighborhood.

“It would be easy enough for us to verify it,” Kinning said. “If this person had called us immediately, it would have been a lot easier to deal with it then.”

Evan Yoder, principal at HES, said no elementary-level children will be soliciting door-to-door for school fund-raisers this year.

“At the elementary level, we don’t want kids going out door-to-door unsupervised,” Yoder said. “I don’t even want them doing it supervised.

“We do our carnival at the end of the year, and we do our box tops-where people bring their box tops in and (the school is) reimbursed for that. But we don’t need to do door-to-door.”

As former principal at Hillsboro Middle School, Yoder said the recent incident was not the first in his experience.

“I had that problem a couple of times in middle school, where kids figured out with fund-raisers they can go around and people give you money for things,” Yoder said. “They went out to get easy money.”

Staff contacted at HMS said the one fund-raiser for the year there ended Sept. 27.

Students in grades six through eight received packets and could take orders from three magazines featuring flowers, chocolates and cheeses and frozen foods. Children were not told to go door-to-door to sell these items.

Money raised during the HMS fund-raiser will benefit school projects, such as field trips and reading programs-similar to the request by the two children soliciting from the retiree.

But in the case of the HMS sanctioned fund-raiser, children were not instructed to ask for money. They were selling orders for items in specific fund-raising magazines and were given a packet with forms to be filled out.

The retiree said the recent incident was unsettling.

“It makes me feel used, because I like to help the Hillsboro people,” she said.

“If the kids would have said they hadn’t had anything to eat or something like that, I’d have given them food or money to get something to eat. I guess I might have spent $5 foolishly somewhere else.”

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