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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Scammers Prey on Shoppers in Richmond

Here's a scammer who incredibly is still pounding the pavement the old fashion way:

A scam artist used the photo of a 10-year-old boy to bilk unsuspecting market-goers of their spare cash at several liquor stores along Richmond's Rumrill Boulevard corridor, police said Thursday.

The boy's photo appeared on cardboard boxes, along with a note in Spanish stating that the boy died of brain and heart disease, and asking for donations to help the family send the boy's body to Reyes, Michoacan.

The boy's mother was startled to hear from a friend Thursday morning, inquiring about her son's death -- since he's alive.

"Unfortunately, it's very hard to verify this kind of information," Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan said. "In this case, the scam artist capitalized on people's generosity."

A friend of Rosa Valledor saw the photo at Trujillo Market, 1025 13th St., and phoned the mother, who drove down and verified the photo was of her son.

"I was in shock," Valledor said. "I was scared. I had no idea what this person (who used the photo) had access to."

Valledor called police, who found $73.61 in the box, and learned that someone dropped it off two days earlier.

Further investigation at nearby liquor stores turned up tales of at least four other similar boxes, all bearing the boy's image, that began appearing last week.

The scammers picked up all of the other boxes earlier in the week, Gagan said, though surveillance camera footage from a San Pablo store on Rumrill showed a heavyset Latino man with a ponytail, in his 20s or early 30s, picking up one of the boxes.

The photo of the boy, who is autistic, came from the website of the California Autism Foundation, Valledor said.

She immediately called the organization, and the photo was removed.

"Be careful who you donate money to," she said. "It's better you donate to reputable charities and not to boxes left in stores."

Anyone with information about the scam can call Richmond police at 510-620-6643.

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