- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Fairfax County police arrested four persons on Sunday for operating a roadside scam claiming to collect money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Police said Joseph J. Murphy Jr., 23, of Warrenton, Va., and Isaac M. Beavers, 22, Marie S. Golden, 22, and Nicholas P. Flint, 19, all of Manassas, Va., told motorists in the 12100 block of Sunset Hills Road in Reston they represented charities helping hurricane victims and asked for cash donations.

“They were at the intersection, going up to the cars and people walking by,” said Fairfax police spokesman Officer Edward Orellana. “They were able to collect some money.”

Officer Orellana said the suspects did not represent any specific charities. Police would not disclose the amount of money they collected.

The suspects were charged with misdemeanor solicitation violations and released on a summons to appear in court.

Police in Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties said they have not received reports yet of any relief-related scams. But area officials are still urging people to be cautious in their rush to help.

“Bottom-feeding con artists always try to find ways to exploit tragic headlines to cash in on unsuspecting investors,” Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said.

In February, scam artists dressed as Red Cross volunteers bilked money from motorists in Prince George’s County under the guise of raising funds to help survivors of the deadly tsunami in Southeast Asia.

Similar schemes were spread via the Internet following the tsunami, as fake fundraising messages claiming to be from relief organizations or tsunami survivors themselves were e-mailed around the world.

Financial scammers already are hitting investors with post-Katrina stock scams tied to speculation about spiking energy prices. One spam e-mail making the rounds on the Internet refers to “a spate of refinery glitches and an unusually active hurricane season” and says investors could more than double their money in just days on certain penny stocks, the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Mr. Curran said people also could be targeted for oil and gas investment scams because of current oil prices.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the SEC accused Texon Energy Corp. of soliciting elderly people to invest in an oil and gas Ponzi scheme by telling them Texon would profit from rising energy prices.

A 2002 court judgment ordered Texon to repay $1.2 million after a settlement agreement with the SEC.

Mr. Curran said investors should simply hang up on aggressive cold callers and ignore unsolicited e-mail.

“Whenever something is too good to be true, it really is,” he said. “Sadly, there are people who fall for it.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports

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