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Marissa Mitchell/MEDILL

There are many ways to support anti-violence causes in the Chicago area. Photo illustration

As violence surges, so do crimes of opportunity

by Marissa Mitchell
Oct 29, 2009


Marissa Mitchell/MEDILL

Take these steps when approached on Chicago-area streets to give monetary donations to charitable organizations. Click on image for larger version.




Related Links

Evanston Collector's Office Tag Day RequirementsVillage of Skokie Charitable Solicitation Brochure

Permits required for solicitation

Evanston Tag Day Permit:
Charitable organizations register through the City of Evanston Collector's Office. Police are notified of the dates and locations that solicitors will request funds in public areas.

Skokie Charitable Solicitation Permit:
Charitable organizations that solicit door-to-door and distribute handbills must register through the city’s Village Hall. They must have their issued badge or identification card in their possession while soliciting contributions.

Chicago’s recent eruption of teen violence has produced a raft of anti-violence proposals and fund-raising. You’ve read the headlines and watched the newscasts. You want to do something about it. And you want to do it now.

While shopping you get the opportunity. A group of young men approach you to donate for a “Stop the Violence Basketball Game Tournament.” It’s sponsored by Evanston Township High School and CeaseFire, a violence prevention program. The game is tomorrow at the high school or a nearby recreational center. All you have to do is give at least $5 so that team members can purchase new uniforms.

So you reach into your pocket to help, right? Not so fast, Chicago-area police and community leaders say. And in this case, not at all. None of the organizations or centers these solicitors mention has heard about or sponsor these weekly games.

It’s a scam. And here’s how this reporter knows:

While sitting inside a Burger King in downtown Evanston last week, I was approached by two young men. With the event flyer stuck in my head and inside my purse, I thought these young men resembled the solicitors who had just approached me two blocks away. So I asked them about the game, although they were more bent on asking me out. To my surprise, I got laughter and details surrounding the hoax.

“We know them. They live around our house.”
“They’re not in any school at all.”
“That’s what they do.”
“That’s their little hustle.”
“They’re bogus for it.”
“It’s crazy.”
“I don’t be with them when they do it. They just come back and tell us like, ‘We did it today.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh.’ I can’t stop them.”

And you, too, may not ever be able to stop con artists from hitting the streets. But you can control where your money goes, said Evanston Police Cmdr. Tom Gunther.

“Unless you know where your money is going, never give to a supposed charity,” he said. “You always want to put your money in the best place.”

Gunther said the police are aware of the fraudulent activity and similar scams that use other organizations’ names, including the police department, on flyers. Investigations are under way. The young men have been spotted outside stores in Evanston and Skokie.

ETHS varsity basketball head coach Bobby Locke said the scams only add a sting to an already painful societal wound.

“It’s unfortunate that some people are taking advantage of the situation. It makes it hard for good organizations,” Locke said. “We’re a respected program that works hard for the kids.”

Locke said he’s received e-mails in the past year from people asking about the supposed basketball games. Another person at the school – and the young men at the restaurant – said the hoax has gained momentum in the wake of Chicago’s violence.

The perfect set-up: How these young men swindle you
1. They all look like high school students.
2. Two high-profile organizations are cited on the flyer, Evanston Township High School and CeaseFire.
3. The flyer doesn’t include the date, time or location of the games. If you ask for the game date, the young men will tell you “tomorrow.” By saying “tomorrow,” the solicitors don’t give you time to follow up.
4. They tell you that the game will honor the life of a classmate who died violently last year, although the solicitors aren’t enrolled in school.
5. They move rapidly, so it’s hard to track their steps.

Trust your instincts
1. Ask yourself if the organization listed on a flyer would have its students or members on the streets soliciting. Bobby Locke, head varsity basketball coach of Evanston Township High School, said the school would never put its students on the streets to promote or request donations for games.
2. Are the solicitors easily identifiable? Evanston License and Measures Inspector Stephen O'Sullivan said most legitimate organizations wear uniforms or T-shirts when requesting donations.