Scam targets elderly Southeast Asian community

FRESNO, Calif.

Central California Legal Services is one of the local groups investigating the crime spree. CCLS officials say criminals are not only collecting money, but people's personal information as well. It's believed potentially hundreds of people throughout the Valley have been victimized.

For at least the past four weeks, investigators say scam artists have been targeting customers outside Central Fresno's Golden Bowl Market -- as well as the Golden Apple in Southeast Fresno.

Authorities say they look for elderly people and tell them one of two stories to obtain their financial and personal information. The first -- a wealthy woman who recently passed away wants to donate money to the Southeast Asian community. And the second -- they are eligible for a special tax refund.

Chris Schneider-Central California Legal Services said, "And, if they fill out that form, they'll get back 800 dollars, but they'll have to pay up front anywhere between 60 to 100 dollars, and they'll have to pay some money once the check comes in."

Victims say the criminals are also visiting their homes and apartment complexes. Bao Thao, who works with Central California Legal Services, says one of her family members fell for the scam.

Bao Thao said, "She wanted the rebate, or so that they say and they came over to her house and so they were able to get not just her, but the other people in the complex as well."

Another twist to this scam -- a select number of people are actually getting money back -- in order to make the scam look legitimate.

Some criminals are even claiming to be employees of Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries -- a group designed to help the Southeast Asian community.

Rev. Dr. Sharon Stanley-F.I.R.M. said, "I wanna be very clear, they are absolutely not our staff members, but we are concerned as refugee organizations for the defamation, as well as concern for the individuals themselves."

Action News has learned that the IRS is investigating.

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