The Coalition on Homelessness has been advocating on behalf of San Francisco's most vulnerable for nearly 25 years. The organization pushes for housing, treatment and welfare reform. Now it seems someone is trading on the coalition's reputation to commit fraud.
"They probably figure it's a well known organization, they can play on people's heart strings and get some donations," coalition director Jennifer Friedenbach said.
Friendenbach says scam artists have hired solicitors who then call local merchants, reading from a script that says in part, "If we close, then the homeless problem will return to the streets and your business will be severely affected."
"It sounded fairly legit, sounded like someone who was passionate about what they were doing," Leef Smith said.
Just hours after that call last Sunday, someone showed up at Smith's Mission District comic book store to collect his donation and leave a receipt.
Most people mail in donations using the cards in the coalition's Street Sheet newspaper or they contribute on the website. Friedenbach says they never go door to door.
"They said their funds were cancelled by the government and that they were scrounging around asking for donations," Jonathan Seigel, another merchant who got a call, said.
The coalition found out about the fraud when two of the telephone solicitors became suspicious and alerted the organization.
"We called the DA's office and let them know what's happening; our fear is they may stop for us and start and switch names to another organization and fundraise on behalf of that organization," Friedenbach said.
The District Attorney's office says anyone who believes they were victims of a scam should call police.