An apparent magazine scam playing on residents’ loyalty to their local high school recently circulated through Hale Center and Plainview and may be headed to other towns.
According to Hale Center Police Chief Terry Timms, the group of scammers might be making between $400 and $600 an hour selling what’s likely bogus magazine subscriptions.
The Herald was made aware of the scam through an e-mail sent by a woman who said her 92-year-old mother-in-law who lives in Hale Center was one of the victims.
The woman wrote that at about 5 p.m. Feb. 9 a van with out-of-state license plates unloaded a group of 4-5 “kids who looked young enough to be high school students” in Hale Center. Armed with cell phones to keep in contact with the driver of the van, they went door-to-door posing as Hale Center High School students.
The e-mail writer’s mother-in-law has lived in Hale Center for more than 70 years.
“Both of her sons graduated from HCHS, so she’s loyal to the school,” the writer stated.
The young girl said her name was “Bailey Limbaroe” and told the elderly resident that she had already talked with her neighbors, who apparently told the scammer what a nice person the elderly woman is and bragged on her support of the school.
The girl claimed she was in a contest to see who could get the most points while selling magazines for the school, which would help fund extra-curricular activities.
The elderly woman said she would buy a couple of magazines to help out the school, “even though she can read only with the help of a magnifying glass.”
“Bailey” said she would get more points if the woman paid in cash, so she gave her $120 of her “Christmas money.” The girl then convinced her to sign a check for more magazines, even filling out the check for her to sign because the woman doesn’t see well.
The first check Bailey filled out was for $199, but the woman said “she couldn’t read that many magazines for the rest of her life, so Bailey tore that check up and wrote another one for $99.”
The woman signed that one.
Timms said the scammers encouraged people to pay in cash because “it would take some time for checks to clear.”
The e-mail writer said Bailey made a small sign and taped it on the door of the women’s apartment as she left to let the other “students” know not to visit there again.
Timms said one resident finally realized the kids were not Hale Center students and called police. He said a police officer located the sales crew and told them it was against city ordinance to do any kind of soliciting without a permit.
“They loaded up in their van and left,” Timms said.
Reportedly, one of the checks given to the scammers was made out to CRS, Inc.
“They gave out generic receipts without a name or phone number,” Timms said.
He’s not sure how many people in Hale Center fell for the scam but knew of at least two residents who called their banks and cancelled their checks before they cleared.
Timms doesn’t know if residents who paid for magazines will actually receive them, but he has his doubts.
“Most of these salespeople have criminal backgrounds. That’s why they’re doing (door-to-door) sales, because they can’t get a (regular) job.”
Timms and the woman’s e-mail said the scammers are very personable.
“They joked and laughed with the victims, complemented them on what great supporters they were of the school and talked about what wonderful women they were,” the woman wrote.
“They were getting information from neighbors so they could be more personable, so it appeared that they are from here because they knew everything about them,” said Timms, adding one girl even offered to come back and clean a woman’s house.
The woman’s e-mail said the scammers collected information from the victims, including if they lived alone and where they kept cash. “They were essentially casing the place,” she wrote.
The woman said the fake magazine salespeople apparently had been staying at a Plainview motel and “may be hitting many of the surrounding towns.” She added that a “pastor friend of ours in Lamesa stated that a similar incident occurred there a couple of weeks ago.”
Timms said police in Plainview told him of multiple complaints from residents.
Here is Timms’ advice to help prevent being a victim of a similar scam:
•Always remember that unless you personally know the salesperson, always ask them to come back tomorrow and you’ll look over the material.
•Ask who they are selling for. In this case, they were supposed to be selling for the Hale Center ISD. A phone call to the school administration building would have confirmed that there were no current fundraisers being conducted at the time.
•Citizens, especially the elderly, are advised to never answer the door to a stranger and never let anyone inside the residence.
•Single, elderly women are advised to call a neighbor and tell them that they have a visitor at their door and that it is a stranger trying to sell something. Ask if that neighbor will keep an eye on the property until the person leaves. Someone is less likely to steal or con you out of money if they think they are being watched by an unknown party.