Sunday, June 03, 2007

SCAMBUSTERS!

I had an adventure at work on Wednesday with my friend and coworker, Lindsay, and I've just been too busy to be able to get on here and tell the story. But now I've got a leisurely Sunday afternoon ahead of me, so sit back and enjoy my tale...

The church Lindsay and I work at is a rather large church that will often offer assistance to those who call in and need help with their rent or electric bill or food. Tracy is the secretary who handles those calls. So on Wednesday morning, Tracy got a call from a woman named Sally*. Sally had run into a bit of hard luck and needed help with her rent, and the church offered to pay a portion of it. When they do this, they make out a check to the person's landlord so we know the money is actually going toward rent. Usually the landlord is an institution like Blair's Cove Apartments, but occasionally it's just the name of a person. In Sally's case, the landlord's name was Linda*. I don't know what exactly transpired on the phone, but Tracy seemed uneasy about making the check to Linda, like maybe Sally wasn't being truthful and was trying to cheat the church out of money. So she told Sally that when she came in to pick up the check, she would have to bring photo ID proving that she really was Sally.

Tracy, however, had to take her child to a doctor's appointment that afternoon and just left the check with me, making sure to emphasize that I shouldn't give it to Sally unless she offered photo ID that she really was who she said she was. I was a little nervous about being given that task, but I agreed to do it since I'd heard Tracy on the phone with Sally emphasizing to her the importance of bringing ID with her. I figured surely she'd bring it and everything would be fine.

In our office, Tracy handles the requests for money and Lindsay handles the requests for food. So since she understands dealing with people who are asking for something, I went back to her desk and confided with her the story so far and asked for her to maybe offer me some moral support when Sally came to get her check. She said she would gladly deal with Sally and to just call her when she came. But the afternoon passed and Sally didn't show up, so I had kind of just put it out of my mind.

Finally, at 4:00 p.m., a woman walks in and introduces herself as Sally, asking for her check. I say, "No problem, I just need to see your photo ID." She gives me a deer-in-the-headlights look and starts digging through her purse, talking about how she's sure she didn't have any with her, she must've lost it, etc. She showed me a car insurance card and a credit card receipt with her name on it, but nothing with a photo. So I explained to her that I'm not the one in charge of handling this, I was just instructed to only give this check to Sally if she had some photo ID. So she starts getting teary-eyed, telling me about her hard luck, being fired from her job, boyfriend walked out and left her, she's going to get evicted... She carried on like this for 5 full minutes. So I told her that I would call Tracy and see what she told me to do, but I really didn't expect that I could give it to her. So I go to a different room to call Tracy, but she's got her phone turned off. So then I buzzed Lindsay at her desk and asked her for some backup, and she (like the wonderful friend and superwoman that she is) said "I'll be right there!"

So Lindsay comes up to the front and talks to the woman, telling her the same thing I did. We're not the ones in charge of this, and we were told specifically not to give the check to someone without photo ID. So after about 10 more minutes of listening to her sob story, Sally seems to realize that we're really not going to give her the check, and she says "Well, I may have an old driver's license in the car, but it's expired so I figured it wouldn't work." We assured her that would be fine, and please go get it. So she goes out to look for it in the car, and she's gone for at least 10 minutes.

While she's out at her car, Lindsay took the phone number she had given us that was supposed to be her landlord's number, and she tried to call it. She said an answering machine picked up but there was nothing identifying who it was, so it could've been anybody's phone number.

Then Sally came back in with her photo ID, and so I looked at it. I looked at the photo, yes indeed it was her. But then I looked at the name and realized... She is not Sally, she's Linda! She had us make a check out to her, all the while claiming that she was somebody else and that her own name was "her landlord!" I said, "Well, Linda, I'm sorry but we were told that Sally would be picking up this check, and I won't be giving it to anybody but her." She got this look on her face like BUSTED! and scrambled to grab her stuff while saying "Um, I'll have Sally call you," while she fled out the door.

So although it was a grand, exciting adventure and I'm proud of Lindsay and I for being discerning and watching out for the church's interests, I'm still sad that there are people who go to such lengths to take advantage of the goodwill of a church! When Tracy came back in the next day and we told her our story, she said she gets that kind of thing all the time, and it's getting harder and harder to figure out who is actually needing help and who's just running a scam. That makes me both sad and angry. So in the meantime, Lindsay and I will take seriously our charge of being SCAMBUSTERS, and making sure that the church is really helping those who actually need it!

*Names have been changed to protect those who may or may not be innocent.

2 comments:

Kristy said...

Wow, very impressive! You know that if I had still worked there I would have left you to fend for yourself!!

Mom said...

We've run into this type of situation at every church we've been at. It's so hard to be compassionate to the people that really need the help when you have to scrutinize them so closely. It's a shame that people try to take advantage of the church in this way. We just trust in the Lord that He'll handle judgements in His own way.