Dig Baton Rouge

Spare Some Change?

By Randee Iles (@RandeeVictoria)

“They’re all following the same playbook.”

This time of year, people are in the spirit of giving, yet others are in the spirit of taking ­– taking money from, and advantage of, those feeling charitable.

Three LSU students – Emily Bermudez, Andre Goodyear and Victoria Bergeron – can relate, having been targets of the same panhandling scheme in recent weeks. All three have recently been approached by the same individual asking for money, and his story never changes: his keys, he says, are locked his car, and he only needs $17 or $18 more to afford to pay Pop-A-Lock. Each time, he is seen loitering in a different parking lot, from Winn Dixie to Taco Bell to The Cheesecake Bistro.

Bermudez said when he approached her at CVS, she asked which vehicle was his, and he pointed one out, so she and her friends gave him money to help him out.

“We stopped paying attention until we noticed an old lady get into the car that he said was his,” Bermudez said. “We then saw him walking to the woods.”

This was not the last time Bermudez was approached by this man, with the same exact story. She said he has asked for her money four times, and even cursed at her when she told him he’s asked before. The second time Goodyear was approached by this man, he said he had told him the same story weeks before, to which the conman replied, “Oh I did?” with a smirk, and walked away.

LSU Police Department Public Information Officer, Captain Cory Lalonde said there are many people who like to take advantage of people this time of year. Even if their stories are similar, it may not be the same suspect.

“It’s not the same people going all over Baton Rouge. It’s a very popular scam amongst a lot of people,” Lalonde said. “They’re all following the same playbook.”

Lalonde advised students to be cautious when approached by those asking for money.

“Unfortunately in the days and times we live in, it appears that there are more and more trying to take advantage of people,” Lalonde said, “because it’s human nature – you see somebody in need and you want to help them.”

Michael Baker, an LSU student, said many people approach him on the north side of LSU’s campus asking for money for food, but when he offers to buy food for them, they won’t let him.

“They always say they don’t want the food, they just want the money,” Baker said, “which makes me think they are trying to get drug money.”

Of course, giving to those asking for money outside of grocery stories isn’t always bad news. According to SalvationArmyUSA.org, from Nov. 28 to Dec. 24 in 2013, their Red Kettle Campaign raised about $136 million from the change people put in their buckets.

While the Salvation Army’s cause is admirable – providing food, shelter and other social services to those in need – others may seem sketchy, especially when the means of collection are unofficial and involve a sob story.

Lalonde said this type of activity should be reported to the police, because getting money from individuals under false pretenses is fraud, and could be considered theft.

Police officers cannot be everywhere at once, so they encourage people to report crime with their “If you see something, say something” campaign. He said the police department would rather get a lot of reports that turn out to be nothing than get none at all.

“If everybody that deals with this person reports it,” Lalonde said, “it greatly increases our chances of us being able to find that person and being able to hold them accountable.”

He said when approached by these people it is best to tell them you don’t have any cash or ignore them completely, in order to avoid an altercation. When deciding if a person is legitimate in their need, Lalonde said to trust your instincts.

“If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t,” he said. “If it gives you that feeling in your gut, makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up – those types of feelings – those are your instincts, follow your instincts, and don’t hesitate to report it.”

Giving Responsibly

Feeling charitable, but want to trust your giving will be received by those in need rather than a con-artist? Donate to these local causes:

The One Stop Homeless Services Center: The center focuses on serving the homeless by obtaining treatment and housing and providing resources to address their needs. The Center relies on donations of items such as washing detergent, toiletries, personal hygiene items, snack food items and towels from the community.

Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank: This collection center provides food to local shelters, soup kitchens, and mealsites to help those in hunger. Give money or donate time online at BRFoodBank.org

Volunteer LSU: The university’s center for community and services connects students with causes across the city, recently teaming up to generates thousands of pounds of food for locals in need. Get involved at volunteer.lsu.edu.

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