Merchant Pressured for Cash in Phone Scam

After one local business owner reported an aggressive fund-soliciting push by telemarketers that represented themselves as Laguna Beach police affiliates, the real authorities last week cautioned merchants against heeding such appeals.

The business owner was suspicious about their true affiliation and did not give them a donation, police Lt. Jason Kravetz said in a statement outlining tips on how to respond to telemarketers.

Nail salon owner Michelle Ngo, who often contributes gift certificates to fundraising projects of her customers, said she was happy to pledge $199 to the organization she understood to be the local police department. “When I hear of something good, I do a little because it makes me feel good,” said Ngo in an interview.

She concedes she failed to recognize the implications of instructions issued by the caller to fulfill her pledge by C.O.D. to a UPS driver. “I’m busy; I didn’t pay attention,” said Ngo, who intended to write a business check. Within a day, her regular UPS driver presented her with a manila envelope and a letter. “I saw an address in L.A. but nothing about Laguna Beach police,” said Ngo, who then became wary. She sent the driver away empty handed.

Within hours the telemarketer called again, chastising her for not fulfilling her pledge, Ngo said. This time, she hung up, noting that her caller ID showed the number to be a private call. She asked that her business not be identified by name.

Though police say they have received no other reports of similar solicitations, Ngo said a customer, who is an event planner, described receiving a similar call.

The police association in Laguna Beach only solicits via mail and does not make telephone calls, Kravetz said. “Many times these telemarketers will attempt to convince you that they are working with local public safety organizations when they in fact are far outside our area.” Please feel free to contact the local police or fire department to inquire about such solicitations, he said.

The 270 members of Laguna Beach’s Chamber of Commerce and its 3,000-address mailing list will receive a warning about the solicitation scam in the monthly newsletter distributed by email on Friday, said Kristine Thalman, the executive director. None of her members reported receiving similar scams, she said.

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