BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) -It’s the Christmas season; a time when hearts are softened to those in need. But before you give, experts say it pays to be just a little skeptical.
Donating to charities is something Andrew Scarborough does regularly.
“Like Salvation Army, and then there’s the occasional thing as you’re checking out somewhere and they say would you like to donate?” says Scarborough.
So, when he was approached by a woman at Walmart on Montclair Road, he thought it was legitimate.
“The lady walked up to me and she was basically on the verge of tears, she was really sincere, and I completely believed her.”
She asked him to buy baby formula, saying her son would go hungry otherwise. She made it more convincing by having baby clothes draped over her shopping cart. So, he bought her $150 worth of formula and diapers.
“I had no idea how much baby formula cost, to be honest. I thought how much could it be?”
Scarborough felt like something was off, and after searching the internet, found it was all a ruse. A couple days later he was told by Walmart staff the items had been returned at a Walmart in Georgia, a location with a less strict return policy.
“I was really surprised that was going on because I was thinking, of all the things to use to bait someone into giving you money," says Scarborough.
The scam aims to prey on people at a time when giving seems like the right thing to do.
“Consumers have been beset by panhandlers for many, many years in one form or another,” says David Smitherman with the Better Business Bureau.
Experts say don’t give a panhandler money. It’s better to give food or items needed. However, he says, it seems they’ve found a way around that too.
“Refer them to a nearby church that you know of or another social services agency," says Smitherman.
“You don’t have to go out on a limb and just trust their word because it’s not always guaranteed,” says Scarborough.
Officials at Walmart say they have increased police patrols outside and inside the store this holiday season, as well as added surveillance cameras in the parking lot.