- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2005

Scam artists, dressed as Red Cross volunteers, have been bilking money from motorists in Prince George’s County under the guise of tsunami-relief aid.

“My colleagues saw one person soliciting Saturday in Laurel near Cherry Lane and Laurel Avenue,” said Kumara Rama, executive director of the American Red Cross office in Prince George’s County. “When they later returned to the location, [the culprit] was gone.”

Miss Rama said Red Cross imposters have been spotted in the county on at least three other occasions since Jan. 24.

The Prince George’s County Police Department has been contacted, and the imposters will be prosecuted if caught, she said.

“To date, no one has been caught,” said Mark Blum, director of planned giving and direct marketing for the Red Cross National Capital Area. “We have put the word out that this is not a sanctioned Red Cross group nor would it be a way that the Red Cross solicits funds.”

Cameron Ballantyne, media relations coordinator of the National Capital Area chapter, urged the public not to donate to people collecting on the streets.

“We have never and will never stand on street corners or collect donations on the spot,” Mr. Ballantyne said. “Anyone who wishes to give can call 800/HELPNOW or visit our Web site.” The address is www.redcrossdc.org.

He said no one knows how much money the impersonators have made off with. They have been seen in the organization’s disaster vests, which bear a Red Cross logo on the breast and on the back, he said.

“How they got the vests is unknown,” Mr. Ballantyne said. “They may have gotten them from relatives who have done volunteer work for Red Cross, or they could have been volunteers themselves at some point. Unfortunately, the vests have even shown up on EBay.”

The Red Cross stopped soliciting for tsunami-relief efforts last week after announcing that the $1.2 billion pledged to the organization worldwide was sufficient.

About $5 million had been raised in the metropolitan area, Mr. Ballantyne said.

The funds are intended to help survivors of a massive earthquake and tidal wave on Dec. 26 that left more than 300,000 people in Asia and Africa dead or missing.

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